Yes, This is Hate.

The Hanging of Qualchan, Spokane County

I’ve always enjoyed driving the country roads through the Palouse territory south of Spokane – especially in summer when the wheat is growing and blowing in the breeze. On one such trip, I came upon a spot at Hangman Creek where a brown historical marker bid me to pull off the road. It was the monument marking the hanging of Qualchan and 6 other Indians by Col. George Wright during the Indian Wars of 1858. At the time, it was news to me, and disturbing.

At least a decade later, I left home on another summer evening to go find that spot on purpose. It’s not necessarily easy to find – either digitally or on a printed map. I was fairly certain I’d find the way, and as the remaining sun left for the day, I did. We pulled in as the horizon was pink behind the pine trees, and the first thing we noticed was the flowers – two pots of red and white geraniums. I was surprised to discover they were real; someone is visiting regularly with water to keep them alive. Behind the stone was also a small trash can and a bag in it, convenient for tidying up the area after careless people leave their traces behind.

But someone has left a number of thoughtful gifts at what had become a memorial at the base of the monument. Lying on a tapestry were sage, feathers, jewelry, a cigarette, rolling papers, beads, and carefully arranged pinecones. We search the car for anything appropriate to leave as a token of our respect, and found a beautiful rock we had picked up on an earlier drive.

My teenager wanted to know more of the context for this event, and pondered aloud why it is that people have historically been so eager to assert authority over others. We discussed those tough topics on the eave of the fourth of July when so many Americans will celebrate the nation’s independence from the control of another. Ironic how eager the colonial settlers were to establish freedom for themselves and so quickly take others captive.

Before heading back toward civilization for late summer-night ice cream, I stopped at the creek and simply listened. I heard an owl, a bullfrog, a marmot, and a few varieties of birds. It was a perfectly peaceful moment tied to a moment wrought with hate.

And that brings be to the title of his course: “Contemporary Strategies for Countering Hate.” I must admit that I thought it was a misnomer – “hate” having become a term used freely in the last few years of social activism around racial injustice. Would it really be about “hate”? I wondered. But after six weeks of throwing myself headlong into research of the Native American community in Spokane – the Jesuit archives, state records, countless history sources, missionary diaries, and contemporary research on documents written more than a century ago – I conclude that yes, it is about hate.

Nothing but hate could propel a man like Col. Wright to commit the atrocities he did. And while missionaries, Protestant and Catholic alike – certainly would have avowed to do what they did out of love, there was hatred for what they believed to be repulsive customs of the indigenous people. What could prompt Governor Isaac Stephens to befriend chiefs like Spokane Garry, to the point of writing friendly letters back and forth, and then to turn his back on them for the sake of property lines? What would cause the wealthy businessmen to commercialize a beautiful riverfront already inhabited for centuries by other people? One could argue that greed was the impetus, not hate, but what is greed other than hating the very idea that someone else could profit from something you want?

I’m grateful for the incredible learning that has taken place through this course. The texts, the honest discussions with classmates, the vulnerable discussion board posts, and the depth of research I was able to do with support from a research mate and a liaison from the Native community. The learning has been intellectually challenging, emotionally taxing, and socially demanding. There is no way to unlearn what has been grasped, no way to erase the truth exposing all the partial perspectives in the American story we’ve grown up believing.

There is no going back. Only forward. The walking meditations to the site of Spokane Garry’s school at Drumheller Springs, the kayaking meditations on the Spokane River, the drives and walks to breathe in the air at the locations of atrocities all around my city – these will continue.

I hope some day there will be more makeshift memorials with gifts of respect at the locations where current-day monuments only tell part of a story. Onward toward truth in place of life, toward love instead of hate.

This reflection is part of a walking meditation project for a graduate course, “Contemporary Strategies to Counter Hate,” at Gonzaga University. Other walking meditations include:

Beware of Suspicious Activity

Trespassing at Muir Hill

Finding Chief Garry at an Urban Spring

The River Speaks

I Know You Broke the River

Beware of Suspicious Activity

By Kate Vanskike

It’s almost dark and I’m trekking down a riverside path I do not know, anxious to get to the water’s edge at a clearing – a spot close to the horrors that took place 163 years ago as the U.S. army battled to claim the land already inhabited by Native Spokans. In my haste, I leave my phone in my car, and decide I don’t care, although I know I will want it for taking photos. A brown post in the trail through riparian bushes and low-hanging trees has a ripped notice posted from the Sherriff’s office: “Be alert of suspicious activity. Watch out for one another.” I contemplate returning to get my phone, but the full moon is rising and I don’t want to waste time.

The opening in the trees yields to a horseshoe bend in the river. A wide section of dry riverbed is covered by rocks scattered across a cracking earth, thirsty plants dotting the otherwise brown and gray landscape with sage-green accents. Across the river, the other bank is treelined, and beyond that is a steady flow of traffic on the interstate, and semi-trucks pulling in to the weigh station. Above it all, the full moon rises still, over purplish hills, peeking over the trees and dancing on the water.

I can’t properly pronoun Spokane in Salish (“Sp’q’n’i”) but I try. “Spo-kah-NEE,” I whisper at first. Louder, “Spo-kah-NEE.” Then yelling, “Spo-kah-NEE.”

I find myself talking to the spirits of dead Indians, and I’m wishing for some mystical connection, knowing that I simply look and sound like some crazy white woman who needs to go home. I thought about how the Spokans came to this spot to protect their land and way of life, and here they watched the brutal torture and slaughter of their horses by white men, some of whom were repulsed by carrying out the orders. How long must they have heard the cries and moans of suffering as they tried to sleep? A sign saying “Be alert of suspicious activity,” – had it been posted in Salish as a warning of the white man’s ways – couldn’t have prevented what ultimately took place.  

With that realization, I begin the trek away from the water, back through the brush, picking up the pace.

“Watch out for one another,” the poster also said.

Yes, I say to the Spokan spirits, “Watch out for one another.”

This reflection is part of a walking meditation project for a graduate course, “Contemporary Strategies to Counter Hate,” at Gonzaga University. Other walking meditations include:

The River Speaks

Trespassing at Muir Hill

I Know You Broke the River

Finding Chief Garry at an Urban Spring

The River Speaks

… But the people hold their tongues

The June evening is warm, the sky clear, the Spokane River calm. Near one of the tributary’s seven dams, I put my modern, carefully engineered craft into the water, its greens and purples jumping off the river’s blues. I, in my matching purple PFD, couldn’t be further from the realities of the indigenous people who lived along this river. Just pointing out the obvious.

As I drift lazily along, watching the sun’s final rays touch the day lilies on the banks, I ponder that. On separate journeys, I’ve visited the markers along this river’s edge that tell a story of Indians and of white settlers, of chiefs and colonels, braves and majors, vying for rights to the land. One glorifies the miners who joined the troops, not far from the graveyard of 800 tortured horses. An installation downtown portrays fishing as a way of life for the Native people, and the suffering they endured after settlers dammed the river. I rest on the water between those two locations, listening for the stories the river could tell.

The Spokane River’s banks have seen bloodshed and destruction. They’ve hosted conversations and heard edicts. They’ve held logs for an old, tired, displaced leader to rest on, weary of the struggle to protect his land, burdened by letting his people down. The water has given life to the flora and fauna, has washed wounds, cleaned hands, cooled burning skin. But those stories could be lost – forgotten as new tales emerge from the tides of summer play, paddlers with coolers, youth jumping from rope swings, boaters hauling skis, lovers watching the sunset reflect on the evening glass.

But more than the fear of the stories being lost of the indigenous people who’ve already passed to the next life, I worry about the silenced stories of the people who still live.

Three times in one week, I looked into the eyes of individuals whose skin is darker than mine, whose ancestors are not colonists, as they shared how often they do not speak, how many times they hesitate, how many times they don’t say clearly what they want because it may provoke a white person. They are South American, Black American, Native American. Each, in their own way, suffers from questioning the validity or the potential repercussions of what they want to say.

There is no monument on the river for these stories. No inscription carved in stone, erected on a hill, marked on a map.

I exit my kayak clumsily. Haul it up the embankment, load it on the car, drive home. And in bed, I sleep fitfully, the stories broiling, wanting to be screamed into reality for all to hear.

This reflection is part of a walking meditation project for a graduate course, “Contemporary Strategies to Counter Hate,” at Gonzaga University. Other walking meditations include:

Beware of Suspicious Activity

Trespassing at Muir Hill

I Know You Broke the River

Finding Chief Garry at an Urban Spring

I Know You Broke the River

In 1995, Spokane commissioned local Native American writer Sherman Alexie to write a poem that would be set in stone as public art. The lyrics of “That Place Where Ghosts of Salmon Jump” wind in a spiral, a labyrinth for the reader. It once was more hidden from high foot traffic and now is amid the more recent installations of Native history above the Spokane Falls along a busy path, part of a plaza called “A Place of Truths.” Here – between Alexie’s haunting poem, the iron fisherpeople crafted by Jeff Ferguson, and photo displays about the destructive force of the Grand Coulee Dam on the Native people’s way of life – here, there is a reckoning. At last, in 2019, roughly 140 years after Colonel George Wright and his troops ravaged all the native communities surrounding Spokane and forced a “treaty” that left the tribes with a fraction of their original land, our citizens and visitors are seeing a move toward a more complete history.

It’s heartening – and disheartening all at once. Now, finally, we gain some perspective. But why has it taken this long to recognize the selfishness and vain ambitions of the whites who tore through the region, leaving skeletons of horses on the riverbanks, burning storehouses of grain, hanging men above the creeks?

I walk the poem’s pathway, stopping to question what is Coyote and what does it represent. I ponder possibilities, wonder how far I am from Alexie’s intentions or the instinctive grasping that his people naturally might have.

More than once, I pause at “he smashed a paw across the river,” and “I know you broke the river because of love.”

I tried to tie it to my research on Jesuits and other would-be “saviors” who came with good hearts perhaps, but also with their own agendas, and knowingly or not, were part of a legacy of pain that the Natives still endure today.

That in itself is a white person’s perspective, isn’t it? Trying to find the answers, wanting to point to solutions.

“White men don’t always love their own mothers so how could they love this river?”

I don’t know, Coyote, I don’t know. But I will walk the labyrinth again, and I will visit the river’s edge to the west and to the east and, and rather than answers, I will simply look for truth.

This reflection is part of a walking meditation project for a graduate course, “Contemporary Strategies to Counter Hate,” at Gonzaga University. Other walking meditations include:

Beware of Suspicious Activity

Trespassing at Muir Hill

Finding Chief Garry at an Urban Spring

The River Speaks

Trespassing at Muir Hill

“Muir Hill” is the name I chose for the 5-acre wooded parcel among the basalt cliffs at the end of our street, after the same John Muir for whom many woods and parks are named.

It didn’t have a name when I moved here, but it belonged to the neighborhood under construction that would be called “Hazelwood Park.” Hazelwood Lane is about 1/3 mile long, curving up the hill to a dead end, the driveway of a new home. At the other end, it’s actually a continuation of Broad Court, which used to end in a cul-de-sac.

I live on the Broad Court part of the street, the “Southview Estates” neighborhood of the 1980s – split-level homes with bay windows, long driveways and large front yards. On the Broad end, homes need a new roof or some better landscaping, or – like mine – a fresh paint job and a better color. But on the Hazelwood end, each small lot sports a newly constructed home 10 feet from its neighbor, all of them decorated in a palate of woodland browns, with vinyl fences pulling them all together as a family.

Muir Hill is open to the residents of Hazelwood Lane, and they have put “No Trespassing” signs atop the woods facing west and the boulders facing east. It’s a wooded oasis that provides a feeling of wilderness in the middle of the suburban area below, enjoyed by none of them except from the classic Adirondack lounges on their freshly swept porches.

When I moved here, the road had not yet been cut through to create Hazelwood Park. There were no signs indicating to whom it belonged, and since my house was all of two doors past the invisible barrier where Hazelwood and Broad met, I would have ignored them anyway. I brought children to Muir Hill to play and hike and have adventures. I brought my dog to run wild. I brought a hammock to hang between two pines I named Sybil and Ferrel, after my grandmothers. Before the “No Trespassing” signs, coyotes howled in the evening.

Sitting atop a rock 60-70 feet above the street, I see the old man sitting on his porch where the road turns up the hill. You – I say to him in my head – you do nothing with this patch of glory but put boundaries around it and stifle the life that people exchange with the trees. You – I see you watching my every move, wondering if I should be here. You have lost the point of these woods. You scowl at children and scorn their wishes to build a fort in the woods. “Keep it natural,” you say, as if there is something unnatural about kids collecting broken branches off dead trees to form lean-tos and boats and other mysteries of the imagination. You – whose yard is adorned with plaster and plastic creatures aside cheap bridges over fake streams – you want it “natural.”  

Let me ask this: Who, really, is the “No Trespassing” sign for?

As the sun lowers on the horizon, I take the pathway over fallen pine needles and pinecones and weave between trees and around boulders and descend to the pavement of Hazelwood Lane. And after passing a few homes, the street becomes Broad Court and the homes age two decades or three in a blink. I will walk up my long driveway, lined with tended flowers, and enter a home that begs for a paint job, and I will ask myself:

Who is trespassing?

Before there was either a Hazelwood Lane or a Broad Court, there were trees and rocks and the river, and there were Natives speaking Salish, whose people later were called Spokans.

You can find out who were the original inhabitants of the land where you live:

Finding Chief Garry at a White Man’s Spring

Learning about Native heritage in Spokane

Drumheller Springs Park is – no surprise – named after a white man. He found the spring and decided the location was perfect for a slaughterhouse.

But before he sought to make a buck on free water, the Interior Salish people rested here. It was a flat hilltop with riparian trees, scattered basalt rock, and camas flowers. A lovely spot – open to the sun but providing willow shade and a view to the hills beyond.

It’s 10 acres in the middle of the city, right on the Maple/Ash couplet running north-side, west of downtown. People drive by a thousand times without a clue the park is here. A humble stone wall on the east boundary now displays art done by local members of the Spokane Tribe. But cars are driving 35 mph around a corner, and if people notice the art at all, they certainly won’t notice a brown and green wooden sign that says Drumheller Springs Park. Why? Because it sits on a hill, perched 15 feet above the sidewalk, facing the opposite direction that traffic would see, under the shade of a tree. No wonder I’ve lived here 23 years and never knew of it, despite being a park enthusiast.

As I reflect on it here in the park itself, I’m sitting on a rocky hump out in the open. There are a few Ponderosa pines within a hundred feet, and a dried up creekbed to the south. Around the south and north perimeters are homes, a reminder of the city’s encroachment.

I felt the rock and the dry moss, wondered if it was comfortable to sleep on, wondered if the moss would come back to life and offer moisture again.

I leave the woods and head to the south side to return to my car by a different way, and there across the street is a tall granite stone monument with an inscription. Chief Garry, it says, was taken by a member of the Hudson Bay Co. to a mission, and later came back to teach his people for 60 years. Whose version of his history is written, I wonder. The marvelous whites who felt educating him as a Protestant Christian would be good use of his passions? The man named Garry who insisted that the Spokane native should bear his name?

I head back into the city disgusted and bewildered, and I seek out other locations to learn more about Spokane’s favorite Native, Chief Garry.

First, I turn and see this mother, kneeling on a path with a toddler who wanted out of the stroller; they stay a while, watching, listening. The mother is unhurried, patient. Together, they enjoy “Drumheller’s” park in the way the Native Spokane Tribe members might appreciate.

The east border of Drumheller Springs Park, seen along Ash St., north of Northwest Blvd.
The steps on the left pass by what is now a tiny trickle of a stream, now flowing through a pipe.
At right, the willows in a dry creek bed on the upper portion of the park.
A monument placed across the street at the south border of Drumheller Springs Park.
At right, a mother and child pause during their stroll through the park.

This reflection is part of a walking meditation project for a graduate course, “Contemporary Strategies to Counter Hate,” at Gonzaga University. Other walking meditations include:

The River Speaks

Trespassing at Muir Hill

I Know You Broke the River

Beware of Suspicious Activity

Angela Davis: Controversy, Commitment, Courage

COML 530 | Women, Communication and Leadership
2020 Fall | C. Cunningham | Kate Vanskike

(Image: counter-clockwise from top left.
Screenshot of Zoom meeting from the author;
the letter C by artist Amber Hoit in Spokane’s Black Lives Mural;
an event advertisement by University of San Francisco)

Angela Davis was a member of the Communist party and a Black Panther in the 60s. She was on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. She was arrested and incarcerated for crimes still debated today. She held a longstanding support of the Palestinian struggle in opposition of popular opinion. She was (and likely still is) considered a traitor by many.

Now that we have the obvious objections right up front, let’s move on.

Davis’ invitation to present at Gonzaga University in 2017 drew its own controversy; the university prepared for safety threats, knowing that many people in predominantly conservative communities see her only by the description in the first paragraph. This delighted her: “It’s been a while since I have encountered such controversies,” she exclaimed.

The very next statement out of her mouth was a sincere acknowledgement that the place where we gathered was indigenous land.

Such is the power of leadership. In her first breaths on stage, she made two things abundantly clear: She is comfortable with conflict, and she gives honor where honor is due.

In a crowded ballroom full of academics, Davis told the Gonzaga gathering, “I thought I would begin with a few words about the humanities and hopefully provoke some controversy there as well. In recent years because of obvious weaknesses in scientific education, we’ve developed a tendency to focus on STEM. But without the framework that the humanities can provide, knowledge can be generated in ways that are entirely disconnected from ideas and principles related to the human condition. …Dwindling support of the humanities has helped to create a crisis in democracy.”

Now 74 years old, Davis has been a political activist, philosopher, academic, and author for half a century. A stalwart feminist with an interdisciplinary interest, Davis has woven together many strands of oppression – not just women, but Black women, not just Black women, but poor Black women, not just poor Black women, but poor Black women raising men who are disproportionately incarcerated. Further, Davis acknowledges that her own ideas about addressing equality and rights for Black women focused entirely on those who were literate. “What about women who didn’t have the opportunity to learn?” she questioned. And thus began a study of the Blues as a way to “access the gender and race consciousness of poor women.”

She laid the groundwork for what Kimberlé Crenshaw ultimately labeled intersectionality, now a critical foundation for academic studies of the human experience and society. Davis clarified that when Crenshaw coined the term, she was addressing law specifically, and its inability to recognize the multi-layered experiences of individuals.

Interdisciplinarity, said Davis, is “to look in unexpected places for insights about the problems of our world.” As an example, she never imaging she would engage in anti-prison work so voraciously in her earlier years, but later learned that the knowledge produced by prisoners themselves has been the catalyst for new academic fields.

“The prison itself is an apparatus of racism,” Davis said. “That led many of us to examine how the institution of the prison became a structure that allowed many historical forms of racism not only to survive but to flourish.”

The timing of Davis’ visit to Gonzaga was just under a year into the Trump presidency. Davis reflected on the national women’s march that took place after his inauguration, the development of the Black Lives Matter network, antisemitism efforts, and the accountability of the police. She may not have imagined that those would be same topics she would address three years later, in October 2020, with another Jesuit community of learners, this time hosted by University of San Francisco.

This time, a topic added to that mix was the discussion of abolishing current criminal justice frameworks. “Many of us would never have imagined abolition would become part of a larger discourse,” Davis said via webcast during the COVID-19 pandemic, reflecting on the collision of a deadly virus and the public response to racially motivated police violence. “We would not have been able to take advantage of this moment if people had not been organizing for decades.”

Sometimes, there emerge historical moments that one would never predict, but if one has not done the work, one would not be able to seize the time.”

In one fell swoop, Davis collected all the lessons of her years researching the most threatening social issues in America – from racism and sexism to poverty and punishment: “There are people who finally want to create a better USA.” “This is about political imagination.” “Citizenship is about community and creating new possibility for freedom.” “We would not be where we are today without the struggles of those who came before us. And therefore, we have a responsibility to those who come after us.”

Davis’ examples of leadership and style of communication have power. She challenges people to examine their beliefs and motives. She inspires us to move from thinking to acting. She reminds us that controversy is critical to our development. She shows us how to face criticism and emerge stronger.

If that isn’t empowered leadership, I don’t know what is.