Jul 16, 2021 5 min read

Now for some additional context

Now for some additional context

A weekly look at news that was under reported, misunderstood, and could benefit from a little additional background

Hey everyone. We’ve had this idea kicking around for a while and we’re finally going to pilot it: a weekly look at news that we feel was under-reported, misunderstood, or that could benefit from a little additional context. Hope you enjoy it, and feel free to send us an email with any feedback. — Luke


In 2016, Montana State University doctoral candidate Marsha Small used ground-penetrating radar to locate the remains of 222 children on the grounds of Chemawa Indian School in Salem, OR. The number of bodies Small uncovered was greater than official records documented, and she believes there are still more to be discovered.

Founded in 1880 as the Forest Grove Indian Training School, children from all over the region were brought to Chemawa. One historical photo depicts children from the Spokane tribe under the chilling title “New Recruits.”

I. G. Davidson, photographer, “Spokane students, "new recruits" to the Indian Training School,” Pacific University Archives Exhibits, accessed July 15, 2021, https://exhibits.lib.pacificu.edu/items/show/3295.

In June, five years after Small’s discovery, Canadian officials announced the discovery of the remains of 215 children at a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia. Soon after, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland ― the first Native American to hold the position ― announced she was launching a Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative to “address the inter-generational impact of Indian boarding schools to shed light on the unspoken traumas of the past, no matter how hard it will be.”

The Kamloops news sparked a social reckoning in Canada of public outrage and grief. So why didn’t Small’s 2016 discovery of 222 children in Salem do the same here?

Unlike the US, Canada completed a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission that lasted from 2008 to 2015, and culminated in the commission declaring Canada’s residential schools a “cultural genocide” perpetrated against First Nations people. The Canadian government issued apologies and paid residential school survivors compensation.

For many First Nations activists, it’s not nearly enough to right those many wrongs. Still, Canada is light years ahead of America,  where we can barely discuss the concept of Critical Race Theory without triggering conniptions. The U.S. seems to value white comfort and denial over truth and reconciliation. Indigenous people can’t even count on official apologies, let alone reparations.

Still, Haaland’s initiative gives hope that we might one day confront some portion of the reality of the abuse and cultural genocide wrought by the 367 Native boarding schools — most defunct, some still in operation — on US soil.

It would be long past time.

As Ruth Hopkins wrote in July: “While the Western world is just realizing the horrors of residential and boarding schools, Native communities have always known. We did not forget all the children who never returned.”

BACKGROUND | For an informative primer on US residential schools, check out this video from Al Jazeera English.



“The color of your skin and in what neighborhood you live can mean the difference in lifespan of up to 15 years in Spokane County”

― Arielle Dreher, Spokesman-Review, 11 July 2021


We’ve previously covered how (frequently ridiculous-looking) homes are going for preposterous prices across the Inland Northwest, with the Wall Street Journal naming both Spokane (#5) and Coeur d’Alene (#1) to their list of fastest growing emerging housing markets in late April.

The growth cited by the WSJ report was hard to fathom given the historical steadiness of Spokane’s housing market. To watch median home prices in surging more than $50k in a year (between Feb 2020 and Feb 2021) was a little surreal. Well, guess what? They just jumped another $55k from Feb to May. It’s starting to feel like we’re on the pointing-straight-up part of the roller coaster.

On Sunday we got a sense of the market dynamics causing this surge: There are so many more buyers than homes for sale in Spokane that we had the most bidding wars of any other market surveyed by Redfin, a real estate tech company. The Spokesman reported it out this week, but the Redfin published its analysis about a month ago. Almost 87% of home sales had a bidding war in May, after over 83% in April. Spokane topped the list both months. We can’t wait to see June’s numbers.

Redfin has been tracking these stats for over a year now. Back in May 2020, Spokane wasn’t even on the firm’s radar. The median home price Spokane last May was $289,900, some 13% below the national average of 303,000. That same month — the last month we have statistics for, median wages in Spokane were 4% below the national average.

Home prices jumped over 30% since then. Wages most certainly have not. Feels like a healthy and sustainable rate of growth to us!


This week Crosscut published an amazing series on civil asset forfeiture in Washington. It’s a law enforcement practice authorities say acts as a deterrent to organized crime. Activists, though (and also statistics) say forfeiture destroys the lives of those closest to the poverty line and does nothing (again:, statistically) to reduce crime. Read the whole damn thing.


Last week the Department of Health reported that 78 people died of heat exposure in Washington during the recent heatwave. That number was later revised up to 91. Separately, the Spokesman Review reported that 20 Spokane County residents died of heat exposure in just the period between July 1 and the story’s publishing, on July 8.

Think about those numbers for a moment: Spokane County has just under 523,000 residents, under 7% of Washington state’s population of 7,615,000. Despite that we had 22% of the state’s deaths.

That’s a massive disparity. To illustrate it, we graphed the deaths per 500,000 population of our three biggest counties and the state as a whole:

Luke made this. He is extremely good at computers.

23 and 25 people died in Pierce and King counties respectively. Pierce is nearly double our size and King County is roughly 5 times our size.

These are hard numbers to swallow, especially given that the west side was just as hot. One might reasonably expect that if people were dying alone in their homes it might be over there, where milder year-round temperatures mean fewer air conditioning units.

Instead, a disproportionate amount of death was right here, in Spokane, where we should have been prepared for it.


Those staggeringly high temperatures (see above) and the lowest year-to-date precipitation in recorded history (see my extremely dry skin) have brought on an exceptionally early start to wildfire season -- even by our recent standards -- and led Governor Inslee to declare a drought state of emergency this week.

There is need to go around, but the folks fighting the fires -- and those trying to stay alive -- near Nespelem on the Colville Reservation could really use our support. Local organizers have set up an aid list you can buy from:

Mutual aid list for Nespelem


The Spokane History Researchers Facebook group we belong to (jealous?) unearthed this incredible artifact of early Spokane from the Clayton - Deer Park Historical Society. It’s a promotional film from around 1910. The first 5 minutes has incredible footage of Spokane’s booming downtown. The last 10 is a time capsule of turn of the century farming and harvesting. Enjoy.

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