No new vandalism, even amid calls to remove Columbus and Whitman statues

Abby Malzewski, Staff Reporter

This past summer saw renewed efforts to remove Walla Walla’s Christopher Columbus and Marcus Whitman statues. Breaking what has become something of a tradition, neither statue was vandalized during last week’s Columbus Day holiday on Oct. 12. 

The Marcus Whitman statue stands at the corner of Boyer and Main. Photo by Carson Jones.

The Christopher Columbus statue was last vandalized on June 30 with the words “stolen land” and “genocide” painted on it. This occurred a month after the creation of two online petitions to the Walla Walla County Commissioner and City Council to remove the statue.

One of these petitions was created by Sam Aparicio, a Walla Walla Community College student from Los Angeles currently residing in the Tri-Cities, and her friend Audrey Tinnin. The pair were driven by their interest in pursuing careers in law and their ethical obligation to speak out against the statue’s placement. The petition received 200 signatures the first night it went live. 

The introduction on their online petition lays out part of the history of Columbus and examines the relation the Italian community has to Columbus Day.

“Historically, Italian Americans have been a group that have been discriminated against, and they often saw Columbus Day as a way for them to celebrate how they were able to overcome these hardships,” the introduction to the petition says. “Many Italian Americans support the shift towards making Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day, while still finding a way to celebrate their own heritage and ability to overcome the discrimination they faced. It is important that we recognize the realities behind the history of Columbus Day, and the genocide and mass displacement that took place as a result of colonization.”

Aparicio attended a City Council meeting where she gave a two-minute speech in which she shared that she believed it was offensive that the Columbus statue is located on land stolen from the Umatilla, Cayuse and Walla Walla Peoples. She also said she did not agree with the existence of biblical verses on the statue that is on public property and therefore violates the separation of church and state. 

Aparicio and Tinnin have distributed fliers with QR codes to the petition and use their Facebook page to spread awareness of their petition during the pandemic. Aparicio talked about needing public attention for this petition to be successful.

“[Tinnin] and I, we can’t do this by ourselves; we need attention,” Aparicio said. “Everywhere I go I talk about this. I always have the barcode handy in my phone.”

But, Aparicio said, Walla Walla officials are not taking her seriously.

“Right now, I know for a fact that the County Commissioners, the City Council, no one is taking me seriously because they think that I’m just some college student who started a petition,” Aparicio said. “I know once it really picks up, and I have faith, I really do have faith, it’s going to blow up.”

Aparicio wanted to plan a protest on Columbus Day but did not want to shift attention away from Black Lives Matter protests and Election Day approaching.

Illustration by Anika Vucicevic.

As of Oct. 19, the petition has received 1,900 signatures. Aparicio is confident that it will someday reach 33,000 signatures, the approximate size of Walla Walla’s population. The other petition to remove the Columbus statue was created by Elizabeth Bahena and has received 2,900 signatures. 

The Marcus Whitman statue also has a history of controversy and vandalism in Walla Walla. After defacements in September and October of 2019, Whitman President Kathy Murray responded with a schoolwide email calling for dialogue over the vandalism. 

“I understand that the history of the college’s namesake is complicated,” the Oct. 15, 2019 email said. “However, expressing feelings through vandalism is NOT productive. What is productive: dialogue.”

After this email was received by the Whitman community, spray paint appeared on the campus reading, “this is dialogue.”

A team made up of Whitman’s Libby Miller, Professor and Director of the Maxey Museum, Kynde Kiefel, Co-Director of the Sheehan Gallery and three students have recently proposed removal of the statue and an alternative installation in its place. 

The proposed installation would feature statues of five horses representing the five tribes that used to reside where Whitman is located. The installation would also honor the “Cayuse Five,” a group of Cayuse who was sacrificed and tried for the murders of the Whitman family during the so-called Whitman Massacre.

Kiefel and the rest of the team are currently working with the City Arts Commission and are continuing to push for their alternative for the statue. They are encouraging the statue to be moved to the Fort Walla Walla Museum.

“We are in the midst of conversations with the City Arts Commission about the statue,” Miller said. “Ultimately, the decision is up to the City of Walla Walla, since the statue belongs to them. We are trying to support their process.”

The Arts Commission will be discussing the possibility of making a recommendation for the removal of the Marcus Whitman statue at their next meeting on Nov. 4 at 11 a.m.