Names are a powerful thing, especially when you’re a young Native American girl attending a school named for the man who coined the phrase “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”
Kylie Mitchell-Gregg, a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, was only a fourth-grader at Sheridan Elementary School when that reality, that humiliation, sank in.
It was a reality she sought to change, beginning with a classroom PowerPoint presentation.
Two years later, with the encouragement of Sheridan Principal Larry Quisano, she will try to make some history of her own.
In what’s expected to be a heartfelt presentation Wednesday night, Mitchell-Gregg will attempt to convince the Spokane Public Schools board of directors to begin the process of renaming the school.
“This is about setting things right and moving forward,” Quisano said.
Under a policy adopted last fall, schools may be renamed after a process that begins with a presentation from families, students or other stakeholders.
If Mitchell-Gregg’s request is approved – Sheridan would be the first – the district could hold a public hearing to gauge community sentiment. At that point, the board would vote on whether to keep the old name or begin the process of selecting a new one.
Sheridan must have seemed like an obvious school-name choice in 1908, when the rapidly-growing city of Spokane built a new elementary school east of town.
Gen. Philip Sheridan was a Civil War hero.
Immortalized in the poem “Sheridan’s Ride,” he was a key figure in the latter stages of the Civil War and the Confederate surrender at Appomattox.
High praise came from none other than Ulysses S. Grant, who said, “I believe General Sheridan has no superior as a general, either living or dead, and perhaps not an equal.”
If only Sheridan had stopped there.
He went on to play a major role in what was termed the “pacification of the Plains.” He commanded the Military Division of the Missouri, which attacked several tribes in their winter quarters, taking their food, killing those who resisted and driving the rest back onto their reservations.
In 1869, Sheridan supposedly told a Comanche chief that “the only good Indians I ever saw were dead.”
Sheridan denied making the statement, but the words were passed on by a U.S. Army lieutenant who was there, and it was honed into an American invective: “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”
Sheridan also urged the slaughter of millions of Plains buffalo, depriving Native Americans of their principal source of food and forcing them onto reservations.
Those efforts succeeded, and a grateful nation erected dozens of monuments to the famous cavalryman: statues, boulevards, highways and schools.
The first Sheridan Elementary School in Spokane, two stories of brick with 154 students in eight classrooms, went up in 1908 at Fifth Avenue and Freya Street after streetcars linked downtown to the growing East Central area.
The neighborhood name has stuck, especially with Quisano, who often refers to Sheridan as “East Central Elementary School.”
However, on Wednesday night, Quisano expects to play a supporting role for Mitchell-Gregg.
“I will be there, but Kylie will be the start of the show,” Quisano said. “Once we give our kids voices, there no limit to what they can do.”
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