George Wright Drive in Spokane changes name to Whistalks Way honoring female warrior

SPOKANE – Traveling near and far over 100 non-tribal and tribal members from various tribes throughout the west gathered outside of the library at Spokane Falls Community College on Friday (Aug. 20) afternoon to honor the name change of George Wright Drive to Whistalks Way. 

“For many years this roadway out here was named in honor of a man that committed genocide to indigenous people,” said Margo Hill, a member of the Spokane Tribe and organizer for the event.

Hill would be referring to the street that was named in honor of U.S. Army Colonel George Wright for decades. However, in mid-December of 2020, the Spokane City Council held a hearing regarding the name change from Fort George Wright Drive to Whistalks Way.

The City Council voted unanimously in favor to approve the name change. The street would be named in honor of “Whist-alks” a Spokane tribal woman.

“It took until 2020, but we finally got it done,” said Hill. “We took that man’s name off of our land, we will not honor genocide.”

A brief history of Whist-alks as told by Hill during the honoring ceremony and based on other historic documentation;Whist-alks whose name means walks in the dress, was the daughter of Chief Polotkin of the Spokane tribe and the wife of Qualchan, an Upper Yakama (Kittitas) warrior. This marriage union brought peace and stability to the region. Her family was known for their intelligence and good looks and her beauty was famous. She rode alongside her husband into battle and carried the medicine eagle feather staff into the U.S. military post to parley on the day that Qualchan was hung and his father Owhi was shot in the back.

These events occurred when the tribes engaged the United States in the War of 1855 -1858, the final stages of which were played out in the Spokane area. After the Native American surrender, Colonel Wright marched to Fort Walla Walla with prisoners, a number of people from the Palus tribe, a constituent of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, and other local tribes were hung as Wright moved south along Hangman Creek (aka, Latah Creek) to Fort Walla Walla.

In her honor, the Spokane City Council, the Spokane Tribe, the Native Project, and Community Colleges of Spokane all joined forces to celebrate and honor Warrior Women in today’s society.

“By renaming the street to Whistalks Way we are saying let's do better, let's celebrate warrior women, strong women who saw the wrongs being committed and took action, let's celebrate this new street today and every day,” said Nadine Woodward, Mayor for the City of Spokane. “It is an honor to be here with all of you warrior women today, thank you.”

Over 80 Native American women from many different tribes were honored in various sectors ranging from healthcare workers, educators, lawyers, urban and local businesses, politics, arts, and community leaders.

“I think one of the things that is really important to recognize is the roles that indigenous women play in our society,” Said Alison Ball, Colville Confederated Tribal Councilwoman, and honoree. “There are a lot of Indigenous women heroes out there.”

The Colville Confederated Tribes had 18 warrior women honored and recognized at the Whistalks Way Celebration. Those warrior women are listed below along with their profession. 

  • Larae Wiley – CEO of the Salish School of Spokane
  • Heather Lemery – Longtime SPS Indian Education Parent Committee Chair 
  • Dr. Laurie Arnold – Professor of Indian Education at Gonzaga University
  • Angelique Tomeo-Sam – Activist, Recovery Advocate, Criminal Justice Reform, Act
  • Yvette Joseph – National organizer for the Democratic Party, a state officer for the Democratic Party. Lucy Covington Project
  • Alexis Tonasket-Hoyt – Activist 
  • Shawnee Bearcub – Archaeologist, activist, and culture practitioner
  • Jodie Lemery –Patient Services Manager at Native Project.
  • Ali Desautel – Kalispel Tribe Health Director 
  • Danielle Stensgar – BH Director, Healing Lodge of the 7 Nations
  • Jessie Stensgar – Works at Providence at the system level, has a B.S. in nursing in Community Health.
  • Cindy Thomas – Worked at Providence for 15 years at NSW.
  • Jerry Phillips – Asst. Area Administrator, State of WA DCYF/ICW/CPS
  • Dr. Alison Ball - Colville Confederated Tribes Business Councilwoman
  • Karen Condon - Colville Confederated Tribes Business Councilwoman
  • Norma Sanchez – Colville Confederated Tribes Business Councilwoman
  • Shar Zacherle - Colville Confederated Tribes Business Councilwoman
  • Kaye Hale – XN Technologies and EWU Native House

Each Warrior Woman was presented with a certificate from the City of Spokane and given a lavender scarf to tribute to Whist-alks who wore a purple scarf while riding into battle.

“For the Spokane tribe, it was important not to just honor one woman, one individual,” said Hill. “As tribal people, we don’t think as individuals, we think of our bands and our tribe and all of our people that is the way. So today we honor šinmsčín all the warrior women.”

“It really exciting to see change come,” said Jessie Stensgar (Colville tribal member)

Seeing a change like this come to Spokane it’s uplifting.”

Stensgar currently in the health care field works at Providence at the system level, working with their charting systems and training new nurses and how to do documentation and such.

“I didn’t realize that we had so many native women in those careers, its pretty exciting because my daughter is here and she gets to see all of that it gives her something to look forward to and women to look up to,” Stensgar said.

Below is the land acknowledgment verbatim and read by Colville tribal member Larae Wiley during the honoring ceremony.

The Land Acknowledgment 

  “We acknowledge that we are on the unseated land of the Spokane people and that these lands were once the major trading center for the Spokanes as they shared this place and welcomed other area tribes through their relations, history, trade, and ceremony. We also want to acknowledge that the land holds the spirit of the place through its knowledge, culture, and all the original peoples since time armorial. As we take a moment to consider the impacts of colonization, may we also acknowledge the strengths and resiliency of the Spokanes and their relatives. As we work together making decisions that benefit all, may we do so as one heart, one mind, and one spirit, we are grateful to be on the shared lands of the Spokane people and ask for the support of their ancestors and all their relations, we ask that you recognize these injustices that forever changed the lives of the Spokane people and all their relatives. We agree to work together to stop all acts of continued injustices towards Native Americans and all our relatives. It’s time for reconciliation. We must act upon the truths and take action that will create restorative justice for all people.”

~ Limlant ~

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