Big awards and staffing changes

Our investigation from March 2020 gets deserved recognition, and we say a bittersweet farewell to a few employees.

 

‘LAND-GRAB UNIVERSITIES’ WINS BIG
Former HCN Indigenous Affairs Editor Tristan Ahtone and historian Robert Lee won both a George Polk Award and an Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for their for their two-year investigation into the expropriation of Indigenous lands for the land-grant university system.

In “Land-Grab Universities,” published in our March 2020 issue, Tristan (Kiowa), now editor-in-chief of the Texas Observer, and Lee, who is at Cambridge University, located 99% of the nearly 11 million acres taken from 250 tribes through broken treaties, illegal seizures and outright genocide, and then transferred to fledgling land-grant colleges under the Morrill Act of 1862.

This “well-documented account sent shockwaves through campuses across the country where students and faculty demanded that institutions like MIT, Cornell and Cal-Berkeley find ways to right a 150- year-old wrong,” the Polk Award press release noted. IRE judges commented, “This investigation produced a foundational piece of journalism that forces a reckoning with dark origins of many of our nation’s universities.”

This is the third time that HCN’s journalists have won George Polk Award. The first went to Ed and Betsy Marston for the 1986 series “Western Water Made Simple,” and the second to Ray Ring for his 2006 feature, “Taking Liberties,” about a deceptive campaign to pass libertarian land-use ballot measures.

HCN bids a fond farewell to three wonderful longtime employees, Graham Lee Brewer, Maya L. Kapoor and Alan Wells.

A CHANGING OF THE GUARD
There’s one downside to running an award-winning Indigenous Affairs program, and that is that the people responsible become very hot commodities: Tristan was scooped up by the Texas Observer last spring, and now his successor, Graham Lee Brewer, has accepted a job with NBC’s national digital enterprise team. 

Graham (Cherokee) has been part of our Indigenous Affairs team since the beginning. This past year, he has covered Indigenous communities grappling with complicated land, water and wildlife issues. He has helped HCN increase its cultural competency, training our staff — and other newsrooms, too — even as he became a trusted source for national outlets such as NPR News and the Code Switch podcast.

Interim Indigenous Affairs Editor Bryan Pollard at Lake Tahoe, Nevada.
Matt Kieffer

While we search for a full-time replacement for Graham, HCN board member Bryan Pollard is taking a leave of absence from the board to serve as interim editor for the Indigenous Affairs desk. Bryan is a member of the Cherokee Nation and a former editor-in-chief of the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper. Since Bryan was deeply involved in the conversations that led to the creation of HCN’s Indigenous Affairs desk, it seems only right to have him at the table as we plan the next chapter.

Bryan will oversee the team members: Assistant Editor Anna V. Smith, Fellow Jessica Douglas, a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Indians, and Christine Trudeau, who has just joined us as a contributing editor. Christine, a citizen of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, is an investigative journalist who has covered Native communities across the Western U.S. She will oversee much of the desk’s natural resource coverage.

Contributing Editor Christine Trudeau at La Jolla Shores in San Diego, California.
Danielle Dean


MORE FAREWELLS
We bid adieu, too, to Associate Editor Maya L. Kapoor, who is joining North Carolina State University’s English department. There, she will lead the undergrad journalism program and teach journalism and creative writing, with an emphasis on science journalism — Maya’s forte. Her first story with us was about how humans nurtured the mosquito. She was a finalist for an award from the National Association of Science Writers for a piece about forensic scientists working on the U.S.-Mexico border. And her July 2020 story about the imperiled Yaqui catfish won a AAAS Kavli science journalism award, and will be republished in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2021

Finally, we salute HCN’s departing IT manager, Alan Wells. When he joined the organization in 2015, Alan was a member of a team that maintained servers and developed bespoke software in-house. Since then, we have shifted to an IT team of one, worked through a massive update in our subscription fulfillment software, and adopted a multitude of new platforms like SalesForce and Slack. Alan has been there through it all, helping to electronically duct tape the whole thing together.

While we’re sad to see all these great people go, we are curious — and very excited —to see what they end up doing next. 

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

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