Col. George Wright would be shocked to find a symbol of the continued survival of the Native American cultural tradition at the military base that bore his name. Yet the Fort Wright Totem Pole stands for all to see near the Mukogawa Institute Commons building.
Paula Mary Turnbull arrived at the grounds of Fort George Wright with the Sisters of the Holy Name Convent in 1960. Sister Turnbull's art can be seen all over Spokane. From the famous "Garbage Eating Goat" and "Australian Sundial" at Riverfront Park, to Spokane Community College's "Sasquatch", Turnbull sculptures have made Spokane a more interesting place for over half a century. While teaching at Fort Wright College she used the natural surroundings to pay tribute to the native cultures of the Northwest by sculpting a totem pole.
The totem is a stark reminder of the Indian nations which once called Spokane home. The Spokane, Yakama, Coeur d'Alene, Palouse, Nez Perce, and others all made their home in the Inland Empire. Forced resettlement and broken treaties inflicted by the US government pushed the tribes to federal reservations, including the Colville and Spokane reservations. Col. George Wright himself was a particularly brutal perpetrator of this government policy. In 1858, he marched with a force of US Army troops to put an end to native resistance to white incursions on their land. The war ended with the "Battle of Spokane Plains" near the future site of Fort George Wright itself.
While the stories of war can be dramatic, the process of Indian exclusion from Spokane territory was mostly a gradual process. White settlers used economics and government power to force their will. Yet the people and cultures of the northwest tribes still endure. The Fort Wright totem pole is a good place for reflection on the Native American communities who still call the Inland Empire their home.