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

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

Top 10 Lessons From Dad

It’s clear Dad has had a lot to put up with from this gang.

Father’s Day 2021

Like so many dads, my dad taught from the never-published-but-universally-known Fathers Book of Wisdom, which included these standard questions: Does money grow on trees? Were you born in a barn? Are we heating/cooling the outdoors? If so-and-so jumped off a cliff, would you do that, too?

He added his own insights, which my siblings and our kids have grown up hearing. One of our favorites: “It’s all going to the same place.” That’s what you’ll hear if you question why he’s mixing together all the food on his plate.

This year for father’s day, I want to share some other fun lessons from Tom Vanskike, whom we all called Daddy until we were raising kids of our own.

  1. Help them pack.

This is an old-school parenting hack, for you newer parents out there. Your kid threatens to run away? Okay. Help them pack. I said I was running away when I was about 8, and dad got out an ugly old flowered green suitcase for me. That came to mind almost 30 years later when my own kid needed some space, and I followed dad’s example.

2. If you can’t beat ’em, hide from ’em.

When my brother Andy and I were adolescents and stuck together too much during the summer, we fought like cats and dogs, usually over control of the TV station. In rural Missouri in the early 80s, this required going outside and turning the pole that held the antennae, to change the direction it pointed. After a particularly long battle and multiple trips outside to turn the antennae, we just pummeled each other. My brother was shirtless, and when he walked away from me, I raked my fingernails down his bare back from his neck to his hips. Immediately afterward, I needed protection from the oncoming assault and suddenly wondered where Dad was. After several trips through the house, calling for him, I found him: Lying on the floor on the side of his bed where I couldn’t see him from the doorway, his eyes closed, his hands folded over his chest. “Daddy? What are you doing?” “Just waiting for you two to be done,” he replied. It was just spooky enough to silence my brother and I both.

3. Don’t let your brains fall out.

This one may have only been said once, but I’ve never forgotten it. He’s a little skeptical of people being “so open minded that their brains fall out.” I mean, I like being open-minded, but this is still a killer phrase that deserves some points.

4. Question what you really need.

You “need” some cute new shoes, or you “need” a newer, shinier, fancier whatever? When Dad ponders how necessary something isn’t, he says, “I need that like I need another hole in my head.”

5. Take care of what you have.

This is probably demonstrated most with anything that has a motor, be it the vacuum cleaner, appliances, or automobiles. It’s the reason Mom and Dad have had the same washer and dryer over 30 years. Name another guy who has a power-washer adapter for the blade on his riding mower – and uses it after every mow?

6. Never assume tomorrow will come.

Here’s a classic Tom Vanskike phase: “If the Lord wills.” We hear it a lot. Sharing plans for next summer or next week, or tomorrow? You can count on him to add, “If the Lord wills.”

7. Enjoy eye fatigue.

This is not about screen time. Dad’s a sucker for the natural beauty around us – not just the mountains and streams, but rolling farmland and the wide-open plains, too. He and mom enjoy driving through the countryside, getting what he calls “eye fatigue” from all the sights.

8. Ask people’s names.

Before it was common for servers at restaurants to say, “Hi, I’m so-and-so and I’ll be your server today,” Dad would, and still does, ask for their name. And if the place isn’t crazy busy and the server appears to have a moment, he’ll also ask how he can pray for them.

9. Relax.

Anyone who knows Tom Vanskike knows this is his M.O. in life. It does not matter the situation or context. If you’re getting worked up about something that’s clearly beyond your control, his one-word response will be “Relax.”
*Exception: potholes and politics

10. Put others before yourself.

For him, this applies everywhere, every day, all the time.


Thanks for it all, Dad.
Kate

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: native-land.ca.

olympia manual typewriter and words

I Am From

(Rosemary Hunter, Ph.D. led a group discussion with my colleagues wherein participants read “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon and then crafted their own personal renditions using a similar format. The result is a poetic expression of heritage, traditions and tragedies in a way that engages all the senses. Here is mine.)


I am from trees,
from Midwestern Maples and Northwest Pines.

I am from the brick rancher, the Baptist church parsonage
impeccably clean, doors open, every space a room for extra kids.

I am from paper.
Loose-leaf and lined for lead, blank for rolling through the
manual maroon Olympia.

I am from Scrabble and laughter,
from Toni Jean and Ferrel Naomi.

I’m from “relax, don’t worry,” and life’s short so eat dessert.
I am from make your bed and please sing this song for me.

I’m from church-every-Sunday-and-Wednesday-night Southern Baptists,
from whom I rebelled early and often.

I’m from the Netherlands, which are Holland, which is Dutch,
cheese and tulips and weed, lots of weed.

I’m from the head-on car-accident mother left in a body cast and
a lifetime of pain
And the patient father-servant who puts on her socks.

I’m from the bins and totes in closets, love letters from 1923,
WWII ration cards, farm plots, coins and stamps,
poems and clippings, road trip memories.

I am the one who found the farmhouse burned to the ground and
will write this story: V is for Vanskike.

I Come to Campus

I come to campus,
not to work – I can do that at home.

I come to campus
to feel alive.
to see the energy of students, to remember
being one at that age.
to recall moments of the supernatural
and the existential
and pain and sadness, too.

I come to walk
the orderly patterns of brick pathways
among the trees of leaves
and of needles
and to watch the squirrels – hyped up
on junkfood remains,
darting among trees
and trashcans.

I come to campus for College Hall
to see its many gables peaking into blue skies,
the circular windows atop Magnuson Theatre, where once,
guns fired from soldiers in training.

I come to enter the Ad Building
to climb the granite steps and open
those thick, wooden doors and
to enter a sacred space of possibility.
To stare at the stairs
with their crimson velvet carpet and the
ornately carved wooden posts and rails.
To view the light subtly knocking on
the stained glass windows at the landing, and
to hear the hurried voices of students from yesteryear
on their way to classes.
I come to wonder with the thousands like them,
what does the world hold in store for me and where
do I belong.
I come to feel
at home
in the questioning of it all.

I come to campus to see St. Al’s,
to see the morning light reveal the
rose patterns on the windows facing south,
and steeples rising, holding high
the crosses of hope and love.

I come to campus
to embrace it all, to feel
alive, refreshed.

I come to campus to wander back to my car and find
 — again —
a parking ticket.