Sāmoans rally for taking down Monaghan statue
Joseph Seia and Malie Chanel, leaders of the Pacific Islanders Community Association of Washington, said they are descendants of some of the Sāmoan women, children and elders who were machine gunned down in their village by John Monaghan and the U.S. Navy during U.S. colonial conquests in 1899.
They were among Sāmoan and community leaders at an Oct. 16 rally in Riverfront Park calling for the City of Spokane to remove the statue of John Monaghan that stands at Monroe St. and Riverside Dr.
Opening the rally with a prayer, Luc Jasmin of Jasmin Evangelical Ministries said the statue is a reminder of the atrocities suffered by Sāmoans and others in the colonial period. He said taking down the statue is part of the efforts across the nation to tear down statues honoring people who stand for hate.
Kiana McKenna, director of Eastern Washington services for the Pacific Island Community Association of Washington (PICA-WA), said that when she first saw the statue, her blood boiled because of the text and imagery on the plaque.
Joseph, founder of PICA-WA from Seattle, said his family came from the village where Monaghan and the naval troops killed people. He led a Sāmoan funeral chant for those killed as a way to say their lives mattered, and the thousands of murdered children, women and elders are more than statistics.
As he read names of a few killed, 10 women set red flowers on a tapa mat.
He said of the American soldiers that all of them were "victims of a culture and a people who lost their humanity. After they compromised their humanity by killing the Native people in the Americas, they extended their brutalities over Pacific peoples."
Joseph added that the killing is not something that is a remnant of Sāmoan history, but something "very real still, alive here in the City of Spokane as the statue continues to represent white supremacy, unfettered capitalism, greed and no care for the fellow human beings who are suffering."
"We want our ancestors to know their legacy must continue, and we must continue to humanize people today to honor those who were killed because of greed. Sāmoans know we are all dust and spirit, because we are not here forever," he said.
"Some who forgot that honor the atrocity with a statue." Joseph said. "Thank you to those who also fight for justice and stewardship of the land here in solidarity with the Spokane Tribe. We can waken from ignorance."
Joseph distinguished that "allies" are sometimes just spectators. He called for people to be in solidarity to fight for justice for the descendants of those Monaghan killed and to challenge the colonization throughout the Pacific that the statue represents.
"The person who gunned down innocent villagers has a statue and two ships named for him, but he was not a hero and should not be honored," Joseph said. "We seek to educate people."
Malie said the massacre killed her great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents.
"We are here as their voices," she said, remembering growing up in Sāmoa and seeing graveyards made of lava rocks in the back of homes.
"Why were there so many when we can bury family in the front of our land?" she had asked.
"People were silent in their grief about what happened. Imagine how they would feel to know their oppressor, abuser was honored by a statue. Would you like to see it every day? We are here. Let's move forward. This is 2021. Why perpetuate hate?"
She asked how Christians today sit with the massacre and how God sees it.
"2022 must be a year we do better in living with all people of color so hate has no place in our community," Malie said.
"When I first saw the statue, it triggered pain about how Sāmoans did not talk about it but suppressed our history," Malie said. "It celebrates a time of empires based on 'the white man's burden to civilize savages.' There was arrogance then and there is arrogance now."
Margo Hill, Eastern Washington University professor and member of the Spokane Tribe of Indians, said removing the statue is not about erasing history but about telling the truth that Monaghan was not a hero but killed innocent villagers.
"There is no honor in genocide," said Margo, a leader in the effort to rename Fort George Wright Dr. as Whistalks Way after an indigenous woman warrior, Whist-alks, rather than after a general who committed genocide against area tribes.
"History is written by those on the top of the racial hierarchy. We need to celebrate the alternative by removing symbols of white supremacy and hate," she said.
Paul Schneider, high school history teacher and member of the Spokane County Human Rights Task Force, said the task force is committed to bring human rights to all in the presence of oppression and to tear down symbols of oppression.
"We are in solidarity with you and with the work that needs to begin to take down this symbol," he said. "If we honor a genocide, we do not do justice to Sāmoans in this community."
Joseph said some today think that challenging colonizers who committed genocide now makes them victims.
Iusi Laumatia, a student at the University of Idaho, was born in her father's village in America Sāmoa and raised in her mother's community on the Coeur d'Alene reservation.
"I'm aware how people erase people. My parents did not know how the U.S. and Great Britain attempted to control our country," she said. "They did not know people were shot by machine guns firing for hours on a church. They did not learn that or how colonizers disrupted our culture.
"We deserve to represent a perspective of honesty by taking down the statue," she said.
Kurtis Robinson, vice president of the NAACP Spokane now serving as a Washington State Criminal Justice training commissioner, declared, "The NAACP is in solidarity with you. It's time for racial reckoning, for holding people's feet to the fire."
He said that recognizing that indigenous people know the importance of fire to the spirit.
"Fire burns away the dross and puts the nutrients back in the soil so it will pull out the good," Kurtis said.
"When I look at the statue and what it represents, it's got to come down. We need to be here as human family together in hope, freedom, equality and justice, not just us.
"You tell us what we need to do and we are with you," Kurtis said. "We can do this. We can, will and must do this together across race and class lines. Those who are not with us, need to get out of the way. We must and will do this."
Joseph thanked Sāmoans, communities of color and a white co-organizer, Roberta Truscott, for responding when there was need to form a Citizens' Advisory Council that is spearheading the effort to remove the statue.
"I am interested in raising humans who are anti-racist and lifting up communities in solidarity," Joseph said.
In closing, Kiana invited people to sign petitions available at the event and that are online at tinyurl.com/RemoveRacistStatue.
They will submit the petition, which had more than 1,400 signatures as of Oct. 25, to the Spokane City Council when it reaches 2,000 signatures.
For information, call 509-714-6642 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.