Group pushes to remove John R. Monaghan statue in downtown Spokane

SPOKANE, Wash. — A controversial statue in downtown Spokane could be coming down.

A Citizens’ Advisory Council wants it gone, but it is not an easy ask. Critics of the statue say its presence and what is depicted on it bring pain to Pacific Island communities.

The statue is of John R. Monaghan, a sailor from Spokane. In 1899, he and other sailors were commanded to destroy Samoan villages and kill the islanders. Samoans surrendered and their islands were divided into different countries, including the United States.

“At the time when the statue was commemorated, it certainly spoke to what we saw as a victory in that particular moment in time,” said Lance Kissler, Chair of the City of Spokane’s Human Rights Commission.

The statue honoring Monaghan went up in 1906 near Monroe and Riverside.  He was killed during the attack in 1899. Today, Kissler said some people view Monaghan in a different light, especially because of what is depicted on the statue.

“The bas-relief has some language that’s inappropriate, offensive, racial slurs directed towards Samoan people,” he explained.

The statue also calls Samoans “savages,” which is why the council started a petition to remove it. Kissler said the Human Rights Commission voted this month to support the removal.

“We believe that we should take a look back at some of the things that we’ve done and make them right,” he said.

However, it is not that simple. The City of Spokane said there are some questions about who owns the statue, which would need to be determined first. If it is a private owner, the City said it would not be in a position to remove it.

When the council decides to hand the petition over to the Spokane City Council, it will go to the City Administrator as councilmembers cannot vote to remove the statute, according to the City Council’s director of communications and community engagement.

“We as a commission are also exploring the possibility of having the City establish a policy and a procedure as to how they would review instances like these moving forward.

Kissler suggested putting the statue in a museum where someone can explain the history behind it.

“We can still acknowledge what happened in the past while still being respectful and welcoming to all the members of our society,” he said. “The difference between erasing history and acknowledging what history actually was is with a current context and a current understanding and a different perspective based upon what history was back then.”

On Oct. 16, the council along with the Pacific Islander Community Association of Washington will hold a rally to remove the statue. The rally is from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Clock Tower in Riverfront Park.

READ: City of Spokane honors man who saved its iconic clock tower 50 years ago