Narcissa Whitman monument outside Prentiss quietly removed

Jessie Brandt, Staff Reporter

In December, the stone monument to Narcissa Whitman next to Prentiss Hall was digitally archived, removed sans public announcement and met with little notice. 

Before removal, a digital archive entry pairing photographs with plaque acquisition details was created in the Whitman College Northwest Archives. Ben Murphy, the head of Digital Services, said in an email to The Wire that the stone was “far too large and heavy for us to handle.”

According to Provost and Dean of Faculty Alzada Tipton, input from the Whitman College Advisory Council for CTUIR Collaboration (WCACCC) and the Inclusion Task Force influenced the decision. 

“The Cabinet made the decision to remove the plaque last August after concluding that it did not contribute to a welcoming campus environment for all of our students,” Tipton said in an email to The Wire.

WCACCC members divulged that the decision was not unanimous.

“The Cabinet was split between those who wanted to remove the Narcissa plaque right away, and those who wanted to wait to remove it until the Walla Walla City Council decided to remove the Marcus Whitman statue,” Indigenous Peoples Education and Culture Club (IPECC) Co-President Erica Keevama (from Poh-Woh-Geh Owingeh) said in an email to The Wire.

Both Keevama and Cheysen Cabuyadao-Sipe — who is Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) and an IPECC leader — agreed that cutting down the settler-colonial memorial was a good move, but speculated on the unannounced execution.

Cabuyadao-Sipe said one likely factor was the recent outcry from Walla Walla community members against the proposed removal of the Marcus Whitman statue; publicizing Narcissa’s sliced monument “probably would have had backlash.”

Illustration by Lily Buller.

Along with IPECC’s call for more Indigenous programming and outreach to Indigenous faculty, staff and students, Cabuyadao-Sipe personally suggests planting native flora where the Narcissa monument stood, something “that aligns with the land acknowledgment, that this land that we are currently residing in belongs and continues to belong to the Indigenous and Native people who inhabited and still inhabit this land.” 

Keevama co-authored “A Proposal to Recontextualize the Marcus Whitman Statue,” borne from multiple instances of red paint sprayed across his hand, which holds a Bible. The document recommended the Narcissa monument be removed from the “public eye” before Fall 2020, noting that the action could be carried out “immediately with no adverse effects.”

Stan Thayne, Professor of Anthropology and Religion and WCACCC member, supported the action but urged the college community to consider the significance of a silent removal.

“Marcus is this big phallic chunk of bronze on a big stone pedestal,” Thayne said in an email to The Wire. “Narcissa, on the other hand . . . can quietly be cut and removed . . . most people didn’t even notice.” 

“But Marcus: I think there would be backlash from town and from some alums and some faculty if he were simply removed, with or without an announcement,” Thayne said.

Thayne hopes the removal is followed by an official explanation, exhibit and use of the digital archive as teaching material.

He was a curator for the exhibit following the defacement of Narcissa’s portrait in 2017. “How we remove a monument is just as important as the removal itself—in some ways more important,” he said. He then included what is done next.

“The stone has been removed but it is not behind us. (We are still Whitman College, after all.) Nor should it be. Even if we remove the monuments and change the name of the college, the foundational violence of dispossession that they represent is still what enables our presence here,” Thayne said. 

Professor of Biology Susanne Altermann was one of the few people to notice the stone was gone. She reflected on the college distancing from the Whitmans while remaining itself a monument to their settler-colonial legacy. In an email to The Wire, Altermann said, “If we were to change the name of the college entirely, what kind of a name represents who we think we are now?”