In 1881 the Northern Pacific Railway was completed and brought major settlement to Spokan Falls, Washington and it was officially incorporated as the City of Spokane. The city’s name is taken from the Spokane Tribe of Indians, known as Spokane, which means “Children of the Sun”
The 2013 Lilac Festival Armed Forces Torchlight Parade on May 18 had a major significance for the Spokane Tribe of Indians. First, Spokane Tribal Member and Bronze Star recipient Michael Sebastian had been invited to be the Honorary Grand Marshal of the parade (Read more: Spokane Tribe Hero Is Honorary Grand Marshall for Torchlight Parade). Second was the fact that this would be the first time since the early 1900s that the Spokane Tribe was allowed to have warriors ride in what was then called “Redman Days.” In 1925 and 1926 at the National Indian Congress photos show Willie Andrews in full regalia, however, he was on foot. These photos are located at the Cheney Cowles Museum (now known as the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture).
The official Lilac Festival Parade was established in 1938. Since before that time, the Spokane Tribe was not allowed to have riders. But in 2013, this parade would be different.
Spokane Tribal Preservation Manager John Matt and Preservation Officer Bill Matt Sr. organized the riders, royalty, members and dancers so that the Spokane Tribe would be showcased in this years’ parade. John Matt stated, “When I was asked to do this, I was doing this for the tribe. I didn’t have to do much, I sent out an e-mail and everyone responded. We used a commercial trailer which is a different category. We had a rough draft in our heads on what we wanted to do. My dad and I got the lumber and we started to lay out the trailer, and we asked another tribal member Andy Matherly to help us out with blankets. It all came together after a few days of building. It was so stressful right before the parade. We just wanted to put on a great product. I think the main thing was that everyone came together as a tribe.”
Matt Sr. also reflected on building the trailer. He said, “This brought a sense of pride to the younger generation. It was amazing to see how proud they are to be a Spokane. That’s what we want to instill in the youth, who you are and the Native culture. We didn’t have a $100,000 float: We were ourselves, especially the culture aspect. It was a lot of fun for the participants! Following Honorary Grand Marshal Michael Sebastian, who is a hero, he brought a lot of people out to watch the parade. The Spokane Tribe paid for his trip home.”
Matt Sr organized the riders, and he commented, “The riders bring the Indian Community back pride.” When the riders went through the parade route, all Natives from different Nations all stood and war whooped. Spectators in attendance also stood up to get photos of the riders.
“It was so great when we came up over the hill, people stopped and jumped in front of the riders to take photos," said Matt Sr. "We have a lot of pride left in us. We set the new standard for Native Americans and the Lilac parade. Look how long it took to get back. The Spokane Nation was three Bands of Native Americans. The U.S. government labeled us a tribe. The government then forced all bands into one area located on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Mike [Sebastien] was the key individual that brought pride back. We want to project ourselves as a positive people."
John Matt drove the truck that was pulling the trailer that held the drummers, royalty, and tribal members. As he drove the truck he could hear “Good job, Spokane Tribe!” from the spectators and the drums were drumming so hard and the kids were dancing that "it made the truck move so much I had to concentrate on driving. It was so wonderful honoring Mike (Michael Sebastian who led the tribe in the parade)! We came out of the tunnel, Mike turned to look and took pictures, and he gave us the thumbs up. It was great seeing the excitement on his face.”
Sebastian, Spokane Tribal Member, was the Honorary Grand Marshal for the 2013 Torchlight Parade. Bill commented on how Michael brought back pride to the Spokane Tribe. He said, “In my opinion, he brought out the best in us. He is a hero and showed positive for the Spokane Tribe.
Preservation ManagerJohn Matt spoke about how the boarding schools took away the Spokane's history, culture, pride, and language. He stated, “So many entities from different departments worked together to make this a positive event. A lot of work went on behind the scenes for help make this work. The toughest is that we lost a lot due to the boarding schools. I have been told by many elders that their parents were afraid to speak their language and pass on their knowledge because of their treatment in the boarding schools. As a tribe we used alot of things such as canoes. We used to be rich!! We had Salmon that made our rivers run black and red with color! We have lost so much from the many of the dams that have been installed for flood control. Not many of our people know that we used to use canoes for travel down the river, I was speaking with an elder and she had participated in the Canoe Journey on the coast and asked why don’t we do the same thing for our tribe, and bring some back of our unknown culture to our youth?”
Both Bill and John thanked everyone who was involved in making this a great event for the Spokane Tribe of Indians and were grateful to their supervisors who allowed them to work on getting this done. They are already planning on how to make improvements for the 2014 Lilac Festival Armed Forces Torchlight Parade where they are anticipating even more individuals who will want to be a part of something that brought all Native People together.