In 1906 on a crisp, October morning, 5,000 Spokanites paraded a mile downtown to celebrate the christening of a tall bronze statue. There was music and speeches with every military man, veteran and band in the Spokane area participating in the celebration. A newspaper article from the Spokesman Review praised the event and the statue.

The statue itself is of a military man proudly dressed in his military uniform, staring down Riverside Avenue. It stands on an elaborate pedestal decorated with an image of a large group of natives launching arrows and spears at a lone soldier.

The statue and the celebration were meant to honor the navy captain and Spokane-born John R. Monaghan, who was killed in battle by Samoan forces in 1899. Monaghan was a member of the first class to graduate from Gonzaga University. He was the first resident from Washington state to attend the Naval Academy, and in the 1890s, he was one of the leaders who orchestrated a military plot to invade and colonize the South Pacific Islands.

Now, over 100 years later, the statue has made headlines again. This time, however, the statue does not have the unanimous approval that it once had, but is under fire as being a symbol of tyranny and genocide.

As a student-journalist living in Spokane, the stories and histories that are told and presented in the city are important to me because they are what form Spokane’s identity and truths. This identity and truths are what make living in Spokane special and separate this “Lilac City” apart from all the other urban landscapes in the U.S. From the tales published in the Spokesman Review or The Gonzaga Bulletin to the city’s unique architecture to Spokane’s statues, all of these contribute to the city’s ethos. We therefore must be aware of our identity and the acts that shape it when we are planning our city and writing stories about it.

The Monaghan statue is an actor that contributes to the identity of the city.
Yet, instead of bolstering our identity, it warps it, presenting a false and incomplete narrative of our city’s and country’s past and misrepresents the Samoan population— some of which live in Spokane — as having been hostile and savage. It places on a pedestal a man whose actions resulted in the burning of Samoan villages, the bombings of churches and the killing of hundreds 
of native Samoans. This is no man to be honored.

The values presented in this statue are completely out of line with the identity and narrative of inclusivity and unity that is currently being promoted in our city. The statue represents arrogance and exclusivity. To let the statue remain in the heart of our city represents an obliviousness to the harmful nature that it represents and a callousness to the concerns of a population that is already underrepresented in our city. We cannot be the idealized version of the city that we so often dream about if this statue continues to exist in the prominent setting of one of our downtown squares.

The removal of the statue is a first step. However, this must be coupled with a change in how we talk about this history and how we educate the youth about this history.

Even after the removal of the statue, we must continue to grapple with the atrocities that happened in Samoa and the killings that Monaghan promoted. We must remember the Samoan people and the other Pacific Islanders that suffered during this time. Ignorance of this history will only benefit these historic oppressors. Spokane must be known as a city that does not celebrate imperialism while not trying to hide its history either.

I write this as a person that loves Spokane and cares about the people here, but also as a person that is rooted in understanding that stories and histories are important. I know that it will be difficult to shed a history and story that has been told and perpetuated for over 100 years. It is going to require reconciliation and even a fundamental change in the structures that have allowed this statue and history to remain uncensored. I also know that this decade is one of new beginnings and hope.

Now is a time where we are finally turning to the voices, like our Indigenous brothers and sisters and the Pacific Islanders, whose voices have been muted for centuries. And it is, now more than ever that I believe that we can finally remove this statue.

Noah April-Sokol is a staff writer.

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