"I have been a subscriber for a long time ... I have concerns about how HCN has changed over recent years. It has become like a glossy news magazine ... Is HCN still relevant to what is happening in the West?”
That recent note from a careful reader got the attention of the editors here. It's not the first time we've heard that kind of concern, mixed in with a lot of generally supportive feedback. At least an equal number of readers offer some variation of: "HCN just keeps getting better.”
This year -- the 40th anniversary of High Country News -- we're also reflecting on the changes. Generations of editors have guided HCN from being an old-fashioned tabloid newspaper that pounded on Western environmental issues into a full-color magazine that includes a few lighter stories, such as the one on page 6, which profiles a Western scientist who helps create huge paintings of the Very Old West (dinosaur landscapes). But some longtime readers think such stories show that HCN has strayed too far from its roots.
In our in-house editorial discussions, we use the word "pillars” to refer to the topics we regard as HCN's foundation: perennial issues that include public lands, water, wildlife, energy and Western politics, both here and in Washington, D.C. And we will continue to cover those pillars, as many other stories in this magazine show.
Our cover story on the Southern Utes is a kind of HCN specialty -- a nuanced exploration of the meaning of tribal sovereignty, spanning a hundred years of history and peering into the future. Jonathan Thompson, formerly HCN's editor in chief, reports on how the Southern Utes have used their natural resources to achieve surprising and at times controversial progress.
"We were very peaceful, but also very warlike when we had to be,” Sage Remington, a Southern Ute and self-described rabble-rouser, told Thompson. Remington remembers being a kid on the reservation in the 1950s and hauling water on foot, sawing ice out of the river, walking seven miles into town to get groceries " and no one would pick us up because the white people didn't like Indians.” Now, the 1,400 Southern Utes are the collective owners of a multibillion-dollar business empire that has holdings scattered from San Diego to the Gulf of Mexico.
With similar thoughtfulness, HCN has explored how other tribes are asserting their rights to have healthy salmon runs in rivers, enough water to spur reservation economies, the protection of traditional sacred sites outside reservations, and so on. Tribes are steadily becoming more powerful in the West, and we see our coverage of this trend as one of our pillars. Still, just for variety, we'll keep running oddball stories that reflect our fascination for the culture, people and quirks of the region. In a hot, dry summer, those stories feel like a fresh breeze.
Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at firstname.lastname@example.org.