At some point during the night on May 4, vandals wrote hateful messages on the walls inside a language immersion school for Native American kids in Spokane, Washington. Staff at the Salish School of Spokane found the racial slurs the next morning and immediately erased some and covered up others, according to reports.
The school’s executive director, LaRae Wiley, toldThe Spokesman-Review that she was shocked when she saw the racist defacement. “Whenever I experience racism and hatred it always catches me off guard because I know Spokane isn’t that way,” she said. “We support inclusivity and diversity.”
There were no immediate indications of how the vandals entered the school and a police investigation is ongoing. Indian Country Media Network reached out to administrators to inquire what the messages said, but at the time of this publication ICMN has not received a call back.
The school, with a student body of 70 pupils, ages 1 to 11, works to revitalize the Salish language, which is spoken by several Northwest tribes including the Colville, Kalispell, and Spokane tribes, local radio station KUOW reported.
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On May 6, at least 100 people, including local elected officials, gathered at the school to show its support: elders lit sage and said prayers in the classrooms and volunteers painted over the racial slurs. A local company is allegedly donating a security system at no expense to the school.
During the gathering, Wiley said, starting in English, “to greet the day, we say (switching to Salish and translated) ‘we are grateful for the day, we are grateful for our health and we are grateful for our families.’”
The school is only the latest establishment in the area to experience racist vandalism. “Hitler did nothing wrong” was written on the back of a community building in Spokane on April 28. In March, several anti-Semitic white power posters were found sprawled across the city, and in November, racial slurs were painted on the Spokane Martin Luther King Family Outreach Center, according to reports.
Brock Belgarde, curriculum coordinator for a youth development program with the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Nation, told ICMN on May 8 that anti-Native American sentiments are “prevalent” in the state.
“Racism in Washington state is quiet,” he said in an email, “but it’s as alive as it ever has been.” Belgarde, who’s parentage is Colville, Rocky Boy, and Blackfoot, added that racism is “systematically exercised in our schools, law enforcement, and justice system.”
“Racism in Washington State is not expressed in main street parades, ruckus rallies, or high waving confederate flags,” he said. “It thrives in the whispers and shared glances throughout the courtroom, amongst the interview board, and around the dinner table of our neighbors.”
Incidents of hate have been on the rise in the U.S. since Donald Trump was elected president. ThinkProgress reported that since November 9, they have documented 261 situations of direct hate across the country. The news website wrote their tally was smaller than the Southern Poverty Law Center because the law center’s numbers include first-hand accounts of hatred reported directly to them. White nationalist rallies have also proliferated across the country. The latest was on May 6 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, when Alt-Right nationalists clashed with activists at the state capitol there.
ICMN Culture Editor Simon Moya-Smith contributed to this report.