Two Native American women in traditional regalia holding the portrait of another woman in front of landscape

Mildred Quaempts (Ieft) and Merle Kirk hold a portrait of Mavis Kirk-Greeley, Quaempts' daughter and Kirk's sister, who was hit and killed by a vehicle on the Warm Springs Reservation in 2009. "We dressed to honor her," they said, explaining why they wore formal regalia for this photo. Photograph by Kathy Aney/Underscore

The Year in Stories

Looking back at 2021, including a selection of Underscore’s top work, while looking forward to an exciting year of growth in 2022.

Dec 28, 2021
Myers Reece
Managing Editor,

Underscore’s team is growing, and so are its reach and impact.

In the last half of 2021, the staff grew from two — Operations Director Katie Whitecar and Executive Director Jackleen de La Harpe — to five with the addition of Chris Aadland, Indian Country beat reporter; SaNoah LaRocque, audience engagement manager; and me, managing editor.

Chris (Red Lake Nation and Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe) is a shared reporter with Indian Country Today (ICT), an arrangement made possible through a unique partnership between ICT and Underscore. SaNoah (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa) brings her expertise in content promotion and audience engagement, working remotely as she builds Underscore’s digital presence and readership. I left my managing editor position at the Flathead Beacon, Montana’s largest independent newspaper that I helped launch in 2007, and arrived in Portland with my family in November.

The growth of the past year will continue, if not accelerate, in 2022. 

Underscore was recently chosen as a Report for America (RFA) newsroom following a highly selective nationwide competition. We’re now hiring for the RFA position, with the new full-time reporter’s start date slated for June. The goal is to hire a third full-time reporter in 2022, potentially along with additional staff. Underscore continues working with a roster of freelance reporters as well.

Our web of partners is also expanding. The state’s largest daily, The Oregonian, regularly publishes our work, sharing the stories with its millions of online readers. The East Oregonian recently put our Chuck Sams piece on the front page of its print edition, and the Salem Statesman Journal has been consistently running Underscore’s content, which receives strong readership, according to an editor there. The list goes on.

At the heart of all this is our commitment to high-quality and ethical journalism. Everything builds from that sturdy base. As a new year approaches, it’s worth looking back at the reporting that has underpinned our organization’s evolution over the past year.

Below is a list of stories, published from January to December, that offer a sampling of the in-depth reporting for which Underscore is known. It’s not meant to be a “best of” list, but rather a chronological showcase of the top-notch journalism produced at Underscore in 2021 and the talented journalists who made it happen.

None of it would be possible without Underscore’s committed board members, Indian Country Advisory Team and donors, from organizations to individual contributors. Thank you all so much for your support. It sustains and inspires us.

Nor would any of it be possible without the foundation laid by Katie and Jackleen, not to mention their continued critical roles in Underscore’s operations. They remain the glue of the organization.

In January 2019, Underscore was a bare-bones startup, consisting of Jackleen, $40,000 and a vision. Three years later, that vision is coming into focus, and it looks good.

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