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Know the West

Consider the contested West

The Western U.S. is complicated; more reason to try to understand its workings.


I recently received a note from a 71-year-old man in Arizona, who told me that he does not subscribe to High Country News “because it encourages, glorifies (and) attempts to justify illegal immigration.” Population growth is overtaxing the nation and planet, he wrote, and we should heed the words of Edward Abbey and send immigrants “back” to “fix their country” armed with rifles.

Photo illustration featuring Carmen Tageant.
J. D. Reeves / HCN Photographs: Lindsey Wasson / HCN

This is an untenable position, one that ignores history in favor of an imagined American utopia. It erases the theft of Indigenous land and the violent displacement of Indigenous peoples by white settlers, and it ignores the exploitation of non-white peoples under the system of racist capitalism that continues today. I would prefer that our readers consider a more complicated picture of the Western United States, where a true sense of belonging, for anyone who lives here, is ever contested, always tenuous.

In this issue, for example, writer Jane C. Hu describes the travails of Carmen Tageant, a member of the Nooksack Tribal Council who faced serious online harassment and was ousted from her post amid a bitter conflict over tribal enrollment. Writer Sarah Tory describes the University of California’s legal struggle to protect Dreamers, the undocumented children of immigrant parents, who face an uncertain future under the Trump administration. Writer-photographer Jolene Yazzie describes the challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ and Two-Spirit communities as they seek to find their place in modern Diné society. And in a brief essay, our publisher, Paul Larmer, considers the implications of the lifetime disabilities pass he recently acquired, which grants him free access to federal public lands.

Brian Calvert, editor-in-chief
Brooke Warren/High Country News
All of these stories describe a contested West. This is a region in constant conflict, rooted in hundreds of years of conquest. White-washed histories, an entrenched system of oppression and dominance, and escalating culture wars — all of these lean heavily on the region, amid the climate calamity. We need a new ethics and a politics of empathy, knowledge and wisdom. This is a moment that demands inclusion.

The question for those of us living here is whether we can find a way through these differences and difficulties. In a society that promotes division, in times where the divides are widening, can we imagine something better? I want this magazine to help people understand these complexities, no matter how uncomfortable they are. What choice do we have?

Brian Calvert is the editor-in-chief of High Country News. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.