By Oliver Lazenby
Swil Kanim, a Lummi Nation member, has played violin and delivered speeches for audiences across the country.
Though he has performed at Benaroya Hall in Seattle and other expansive auditoriums, he still hosts free monthly shows in Whatcom County.
Kanim’s First Friday shows began decades ago at the now-closed Stuart’s Cafe in Bellingham and are now held at Te’Ti’Sen – formerly called the Lummi Gateway Center. The next first Friday performance starts at 7 p.m. on February 5 at Te’Ti’Sen, which is off exit 260, at 4920 Rural Avenue in Ferndale.
The shows are inspired in part by a free concert that Kanim attended as a broke teenager and are a way for him to build community and give back to Whatcom County, he said.
“God asks you to tithe,” Kanim said. “To me this is like that. The people who really need to hear my stories and my music can have it.”
Kanim, an educator, storyteller, actor and musician, performs with a variety of guests at each First Friday event. The family-friendly shows often include musicians, poets and comedians.
“It’s a beautiful mix of professional performers and closet performers,” Kanim said.
The audience is also a beautiful mix, he said.
“There are elders, four-year-olds, natives and nonnatives, people from Seattle and people from Canada,” he said.
Sometimes more than 100 people attend the performances, said Nancy Jordan, administrative director with the Lummi Nation Service Organization.
“It really brings the community together,” Jordan said. “He brings an uplifting message.”
Kanim also runs a nonprofit called HonorWorks, which sponsors the performances. HonorWorks’ mission is to help people find their potential through art and education, according to its website. In addition to the First Friday performances, the nonprofit puts on a variety of workshops, classroom discussions, school assemblies and other programs.
Kanim strives to do more than just entertain at the performances, he said. Music helped Kanim heal childhood wounds – he spent his childhood in foster care after being separated from his parents, according to HonorWorks’ website.
He hopes to help others find their paths, or at least a sense of belonging, through music and performance.
“To me that’s the ultimate entertainment,” he said. “We can move people to realize that they belong in this community. We may not be biologically related but we can at least be related to a moment.”