Ten stories that got your attention in 2019

From racism to renewable energy to corruption, our reporting featured a variety of communities and perspectives from the West.


As 2019 comes to a close, we’re taking a moment to reflect on the stories that resonated with our readers. Across the region, 2019 provided a host of reasons to delve into stories on social and environmental justice, rural life, natural resources and the public lands. These are the stories that resonated with readers.

Luna Anna Archey/High Country News

Elena Saavedra Buckley took an in-depth look at the impact of the unregulated practice of body brokering, and what it means to grieve. Saavedra Buckley provides an intimate look at the complexities of grief and what happens when the normal process of mourning is interrupted.

‘None of this happened the way you think it did’

For years, the clients of a Colorado funeral home kept their loved ones’ cremated remains. Then the FBI called.

Courtesy of Ed DesRosier

The Blackfeet Nation wants to give national park visitors a nuanced Indigenous view of public land, so they’re working to open their own park. Samantha Weber traveled to northwestern Montana to understand how a tribal park might come about.

The Blackfeet Nation is opening its own national park

Members of the Blackfeet Nation want tourists to understand how the story of Glacier National Park is really the story of their nation.

Brett Seymour/NPS Submerged Resources Center

In an endangered species whodunnit, Paige Blankenbuehler recounts a night that went awry for one man and a Devils Hole pupfish.

How a tiny endangered species put a man in prison

The Devils Hole pupfish is nothing to mess with.

Kim Raff for High Country News

In Utah, faulty water systems exposed thousands to tainted drinking water, problems potentially exacerbated by the influence of the LDS Church over state regulators. Emma Penrod explores the consequences that can follow when religious power and state politics are entwined.

The Mormon Church supplied tainted water to its members for years

Utah regulators turned a blind eye to faulty water systems at a girls’ summer camp, trusting the LDS Church would eventually fix the problem.

Word Records

In this perspective, Rebbeca Nagle examines racial identity theft and the harm it has caused for Indigenous people and calls for a halt of false narratives.

How ‘pretendians’ undermine the rights of Indigenous people

We must guard against harmful public discourse about Native identity as much as we guard against harmful policy.

Luna Anna Archey/High Country News

Nick Bowlin didn’t have to travel far to find a good story out of Western Colorado, where one high school is confronting the loss of coal jobs with training in solar science and technical training.

In rural Colorado, the kids of coal miners learn to install solar panels

Where the mines once provided steady employment, solar energy now offers jobs for the next generation.

Jerome Pollos for High Country News

Associate Editor Emily Benson reports on a chemical danger lurking in Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene Lake — a potent concoction of mine-drainage toxins—and why it’s been so hard to confront.

A dangerous cocktail threatens the gem of North Idaho

Upstream mining has left a toxic legacy at the bottom of Coeur d’Alene Lake.

Leah Nash for High Country News

Leah Sottile, High Country News correspondent and host of the popular podcast Bundyville, describes efforts to force Portland, Oregon, to face its racist past — and present.

Racist policing plagues Portland’s nightclubs

A reckoning is coming for Oregon’s white supremacist past.

Don White/Alamy

Assistant Editor Anna V. Smith analyzes the “rights of personhood” for the Klamath River, established this year by the Yurok Tribe in a resolution allows for new legal strategies in court amid the growing threats of climate change.

The Klamath River now has the legal rights of a person

A Yurok Tribe resolution allows cases to be brought on behalf of the river as a person in tribal court.

Serge van Neck for High Country News

Nick Estes writes about the oft-ignored legacy of Indian boarding schools and a U.S. policy used to remove Indigenous peoples from their lands and eradicate languages and cultures.

The U.S. stole generations of Indigenous children to open the West

Indian boarding schools held Native American youth hostage in exchange for land cessions.

Andrew Cullen for High Country News

Bonus story: A look back at the year wouldn’t be complete without this essential story by Tay Wiles, who assembles an intimate portrait of Arivaca, Arizona, and the impacts militia and violence have had there over the years.

Militias, MAGA activists and one border town’s complicated resistance

How Arivaca, Arizona, became a magnet for anti-immigrant activists – and what locals did next.

We know our readers see and hear things we don’t, and we want your ideas. Let us know what stories you think we should cover from around the West. 

Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.

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