I am at a table with fifteen people around it. They represent several tribal governments, a federal agency that has caused critical contamination of their natural and cultural resources, a state agency responsible for natural resource protection, and another federal agency thrown in for good measure. Some of these parties have lawyers with them, some have technical experts. There is a consultant to research, gather data and help the group come to agreement on the facts. And there is me, responsible for the negotiating environment at the table.
The goal is to determine damages to the resources and find ways of compensating for those losses. Some of the damages cannot be remediated, some tribes are suffering economic, social or cultural impacts, or all three, and there are limited funds with which to compensate. The damage is done and these parties are left to pick up the pieces and reconstruct a way forward. In the world of natural resource mediation this is about as grim as it gets.
I should dread these meetings, and yet I look forward to them. How can this be and what does it tell us about handling conflict? (more…)