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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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New basketball court mural to become first in Spokane to honor and celebrate tribal culture and history

A preview of what the court will look like when it's finished in August (Spokane Indians Baseball)
A preview of what the court will look like when it's finished in August (Spokane Indians Baseball)

A new mural honoring the Spokane Tribe of Indians will be installed on Franklin Park’s basketball court, making it the first Native basketball court in Spokane once finished.

Carol Evans, chairwoman of the Spokane Tribe of Indians Tribal Council, said it will be both an opportunity for the community to learn more about the tribe’s long history and a great place to play ball, especially for Native youth.

“It will help people understand that where they live was once the homeland of the Spokane people that took care of the land and lived there for thousands of years,” Evans said. “And basketball is one of the favorite sports of our community.”

The court will feature the word Sp’q’n’i, meaning “Spokane” in Salish, and important imagery representing the tribe’s deep heritage.

The Hoopfest basketball court at Franklin Park will receive a mural in the next few weeks.  (Dan Pelle/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
The Hoopfest basketball court at Franklin Park will receive a mural in the next few weeks. (Dan Pelle/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

It will include images of a sturgeon nose canoe, camas plants, the Spokane River, a redband trout, eagle feathers and drums. An interpretive sign on the side of the court will help visitors and players alike understand the meaning of the symbols and language.

Evans said all of these not only have deep meanings to the tribe’s heritage, but many also represent issues they are fighting for today.

“It includes water; water is what returned the salmon to us every year,” Evans said. “We continue to work on water issues, cleaning up the water and trying to bring the salmon back.”

The Spokane Indians baseball team came up with the idea for a Native mural, but partnered with the Spokane Tribe, Hooptown USA and Spokane Arts to get the project fully developed and approved by the city.

The court mural will be a donation, primarily funded by the Spokane Tribe with support from the Spokane Indians.

Otto Klein, senior vice president of Spokane Indians Baseball, said he hopes work on the project will begin by the end of this month and finish sometime in August.

With the controversial background of sports teams co-opting Native imagery and using stereotypes as mascots, Klein said the court marks another example of the respectful and constructive relationship that the team has developed with the Spokane Tribe.

“This is just another extension of our partnership with the tribe,” Klein said.

Evans said that, though some other Indigenous people may see the team’s use of the Spokane Tribe as wrong, the tribe believes that the collaboration and efforts from the team like the mural has created a good and respectful working relationship.

The design for the court was originally drawn up by the Spokane Indians baseball team, but went through eight to 10 revisions when the team asked for feedback from the Spokane Tribe.

The Hoopfest basketball court at Franklin Park will get a mural honoring the Spokane Tribe of Indians.  (Dan Pelle/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
The Hoopfest basketball court at Franklin Park will get a mural honoring the Spokane Tribe of Indians. (Dan Pelle/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The end-product is heavily influenced by the work of late Spokane Tribal member and artist George Flett, who before his death in 2013 made a lasting impact through his artwork and mentorship of the Spokane Tribal community.

“He was a world-renowned artist… and he was also a kind and gentle man who took the time to teach anybody who wanted to paint,” Evans said.

The court will be painted by Ruben Marcilla, a Native artist who has worked with the Spokane Indians baseball team for over 30 years in developing hand-painted signs, and two mural assistants plus an apprentice provided by Spokane Arts.

Mika Maloney, program manager at Spokane Arts, said the two apprentices will likely be members of the Spokane Tribe. She hopes that the experience will give the apprentices skills and inspire them to do their own basketball murals.

The developers of the court were especially thrilled about the central location of Franklin Park, which should provide a place to safely play and exercise for all members of the Spokane community.

The Franklin Park basketball mural will join a growing number of basketball court murals across Spokane as a part of larger initiative by Hooptown USA and Spokane Arts to beautify and refurbish neighborhood courts.

According to Matt Santangelo, executive director of the Spokane Hoopfest Association that runs Hooptown USA, adding the Native court mural to the four existing murals across Spokane was a no-brainer.

“To be able to highlight our relationship with our Native communities in a way that is is meaningful to all those involved… it’s a layup for us to do this,” Santangelo said.

Santangelo said his organization would love to see more identity-based proposals for murals on basketball courts as part of the Hooptown USA initiative.

No concrete dates have been set yet, but there are tentative plans for a blessing ceremony to dedicate the court with the Spokane Tribe of Indians and to have Spokane tribal youth be the first to play on the court.

Evans said the potential blessing could include smudging, drum songs and the participation of Spokane tribal elders.

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