When we speak of “The West,” what are we saying? There’s an old West. Isolated. Rugged. A hostile land to be tamed. Clint Eastwood scowling at the end of a dusty road, alone.
There’s a new West: coffee, airplanes, tech. Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing, server farms in Quincy, and GPS-guided combines on the Palouse hills.
But there’s also a new old West, where we’re cultivating a deeper understanding of ancient traditions and more recent Western history, building new businesses around old agricultural lifestyles, and reinventing the old cowboy tropes.
At the 109-year-old Pendleton Roundup in Oregon, for example, a Washington State University alumni family and colleagues don’t just ride broncos and live the cowboy life, they fight the huge food insecurity problem in their state through collaboration with Portland. Bridging that rural-urban divide shows what can be accomplished, not in an isolated West, but in an interconnected community ready to tackle big issues.
Of course, the West has been home to people for thousands of years, and WSU researchers, alumni, and staff work to revitalize Native American languages, support Native students, and understand traditions of medicine. At WSU Health Sciences Spokane, they’re making concerted efforts to increase the number of Native health-care practitioners, while integrating culturally appropriate Native medicine with Western healthcare. It comes at a crucial time, particularly in rural areas, where Native Americans face severe health disparities.
WSU English Professor Kim Christen also coordinates with Native American tribes to revitalize their languages. Their efforts represent more than language classes and curricula—the Native languages themselves are inextricably tied to the land.
Small farms have also been part of the Western landscape for hundreds of years. Thanks to an energetic WSU Extension member, many struggling farms are finding new life through agritourism.
Visions of the old West inspired artist Don Weller ’60 to paint cowboys and horses. It’s a return for him from the new West—Weller was a graphic designer in Los Angeles for decades, and his illustration of Elton John appeared on the cover of Time magazine, among other high-profile projects.
The new West that many of us share continues to evolve and become even more intriguing—just take a look at WSU equestrian coach Laura Moore ’08 winning a mechanical bull riding contest, pushing back on the old stereotypes of the West.