What is the West?

Debra Magpie Earling

"A battle continues to rage over the idea of the West and its territorial boundaries. What is the West? I'm afraid I have no clear answers but if pressed I would say the West is haunted by ideas of Encroachment and Displacement. The Malheur standoff was the current manifestation of that historical idea. 'Who owns the West' is the question in the current senate and gubernatorial races in Montana. Encroachment on someone's rights is messy business--the stuff of pulp fiction and literature. Encroachment is gritty and ugly and tough and it drives our imagination and determination and calls the stranger into town to clean up the mess or gun it up all over again. Displacement is the human toll of encroachment, the suffering, the loss. Displacement offers the hopeless and the hopeful a lockstep with tragedy and comedy and either self-serving sanctimony or true indignation and moral righteousness. We love and hate the never-ending question of the West but we cannot resist the call to define it."

Debra Magpie Earling is the author of Perma Red and The Lost Journals of Sacajawea. She is the current director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Montana.