Dozens of statues associated with racial injustice have been removed from public spaces across the country since last year, and some people hope a controversial one in downtown Spokane is next.
About 40 people on Saturday rallied at the base of the Riverfront Park clocktower in Spokane calling for the John Robert Monaghan statue, located on the corner of Monroe Street and Riverside Avenue, to be taken down.
“I know that the first time I saw the Monaghan statue, I remember my blood boiling and I remember feeling so, so unwelcome,” Kiana McKenna, a Samoan American and director of Eastern Washington services for the Pacific Islander Community Association, told the crowd.
Monaghan died near Apia, Samoa, in 1899 in the United States’ effort to colonize Samoa.
Monaghan was the son of a wealthy Spokane business man, James Monaghan, who made money in mining and railroads. The younger Monaghan was in the first class to graduate from Gonzaga College and later attended the U.S. Naval Academy.
The plaque on the downtown statue reads, “During the retreat of the allied forces from the deadly fire and overwhelming number of the savage foe, he alone stood the fearful onslaught and sacrificed his life defending a wounded comrade Lieutenant Philip V. Lansdale United States Navy.”
Jade Faletoi, a member of the Citizens’ Advisory Council that is spearheading the effort to have the statue removed, said before the rally that the monument referring to the Samoan people as “savage foe” is racist.
Joseph Seia, executive director of the Pacific Islander Community Association of Washington, said his family comes from the villages where Monaghan and other soldiers killed thousands of villagers.
“There were thousands of people that were gunned down by John Monaghan and somehow this universe afforded him a statue and afforded two warships that were named after him,” Seia said. “He is a killer of children. There’s no honor to that.”
Margo Hill, a member of the Spokane Tribe of Indians and an Eastern Washington University professor, said she and others are not trying to erase history, but are simply trying to tell the truth. That truth is Monaghan was not a war hero but that he “murdered innocent villagers,” she said.
“There is no honor in genocide,” Hill said.
Hill was one of the leaders in changing Fort George Wright Drive to Whistalks Way, which runs along the perimeter of Spokane Falls Community College. Col. George Wright led a violent campaign against Indigenous people as white settlers spread across the area in the mid-19th century.
Paul Schneider, vice president of the Spokane County Human Rights Task Force, said Saturday the Samoan community is vital to Spokane and deserves to be treated like everyone else.
“If we continue to honor a genocide, we are not doing justice to the people in this community,” he said.
Seia read the names of villages that were burned and gunned down by Monaghan and the U.S. government. Ten people each laid a red rose on a rug that was on the steps of the clocktower to honor those killed by Monaghan and others. Seia said many of those who held a rose Saturday were descendants of Pacific Island villagers who were affected by Monaghan.
Malie Chanel said she is a descendant of some of those who were massacred.
“We are here to be the voices of our ancestors, for the children that were killed,” Chanel said.
After the speakers, the crowd chanted and marched across the Spokane River to the large red wagon at Riverfront Park.
The volunteer-led Citizens’ Advisory Council has gathered 1,183 signatures, with a goal of 2,000, as of late Saturday afternoon, according to the website, sign.moveon.org/petitions/remove-the-racist-john-r-monaghan-statue-in-downtown-spokane-wa.
Hana Truscott, co-founder of the council, said 20 to 30 people signed at Saturday’s rally. She said the group will submit the petition and a letter that businesses signed to the Spokane City Council in the coming weeks.
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