“It’s a great day for a great event,” Spokane Tribe of Indians tribal council chairman Greg Abrahamson commented. “Chief Garry was significant not only to the tribe but to the area. He was the first tribal leader to learn the foreign language—English.”
It was a day to formally dedicate a monument to replace a statue of Chief Spokan Garry, which had been destroyed over time by both weather and vandals. This was a day three years in the making and a large crowd gathered in Chief Garry Park in Spokane, Washington to view the new monument and to hear tribal leaders and Garry’s descendents speak of the man and his life. He died in 1892 but passed on a strong legacy to the tribe and his descendants.
Garry was born in 1811, the son of Illum Spokanee. At 14, he was sent by his father to the Red River missionary school in Ontario, Canada where he learned not only English but French, along with agriculture, religion and the Bible. These abilities were to benefit him, and Native American people throughout the region, as an educator, translator, and negotiator with the United States.
Two of Garry’s direct descendents were on hand to represent the family and a third sent a written message. All three are sisters, Coeur d’Alene tribal members, and great great granddaughters of Garry.
Jeanne Givens, one of the sisters, said “I think commemorating Garry is very important. He was the region’s first educator. He continually fought for his Upper Spokane and Middle Spokane people to have a permanent homeland. Garry was a Christian and baptized many of his own people. As an interpreter during treaty negotiations, his language skills helped amplify the voice of tribal leaders of their concerns and frustrations, and strengthened their positions for what was fair for their people.”
Another sister, Teresa Ayall-Williams, explained more of the family lineage. “I am the granddaughter of Ignus Garry who knew Spokan Garry as a young boy. He lived with him in his teepee. I tell you this because of the great pride we have today to represent Chief Garry. How very fitting this is called the Gathering Place. It brings honor to a place that recognizes Chief Spokan Garry.”
“Spokan Garry was first and foremost a teacher,” she continued, then told of subsequent generations. Ayall-Williams is the principal of an elementary school. Her daughter, Nikki Santos, works in higher education with tribal colleges across the country. Givens is a retired teacher as well as the first Native American woman to hold the office of State Representative in Idaho. Mildred Parr Ayall, a great great niece of Garry, was the longest serving teacher in Washington State. Joseph Garry, a great great grandson of Garry was the first Native American senator from Idaho. “These kinds of miracles just don’t happen by happenstance,” Ayall-Williams said. “It can teach us the strength of family values. It runs deep in our family.”
Mike Spencer, Spokane Tribal Council vice chairman, described the origin of the design for the monument. “The idea came during a gathering at Wellpinit High School. Parents, elders, and teachers joined about a dozen young freshmen students who were having difficulty transitioning from middle school to high school. A traditional drum was set up in the middle of the classroom and songs from our ancestors were sung. Words of encouragement were shared. The young students were reminded about Chief Spokan Garry and his early education at the school away from his family.”
This circular arrangement, and Garry’s involvement with education, led to the monument’s design. “Every element of this monument has special meaning,” Spencer said, the flagstone entry, the circles of basaltic columns, the salmon, the drum, and the sun circle, and how they relate to the tribe. “The word Spokanee, or Spokane, translates to sun and we’re commonly known as the ‘children of the sun.’”
Many people helped raise funds for the monument and all were thanked. A young girl, Victoria Schauer, received the loudest ovation. She was the first person to donate. At 8, she began donating her allowance. On that day she represented all the children who collectively raised almost $30,000. Victoria is now 12 and was thanked with the gift of a Pendleton blanket.
Several speakers, including City of Spokane Mayor Mary Verner, also praised the leadership of Jamie SiJohn, a spokesperson for the Spokane Tribe, in getting the monument designed and constructed.