Property Rights

Much of my work as a mediator involves the question of who owns what. Who owns the water in the river? How much can they divert and at what time during the year, even during the day? These are conflicts that can lead to blows and/or end up in court. Who owns the right to a piece of public land and for what purpose? This raises questions of who is the public – ranchers, loggers, hikers, birdwatchers? — and how multiple users can share the resource without clashing.

But there are other kinds of property clashes that are more thorny and for me more intriguing.

potAround 1990 I facilitated a meeting that I still remember vividly because of the passion and the honesty on both sides. It’s funny how I can forget glorious moments of technical prowess on one side of the table or a critical legal argument that swung the day. What sticks with me are human encounters like this simple discussion between National Park Service archaeological staff and several Native American tribes. The Park Service wanted to talk openly in a safe environment with tribal representatives about legislation that was working its way through Congress. It was the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, now known as NAGPRA. Tribes had been lobbying for decades for the right to determine the final disposition of skeletal remains, cultural artifacts and sacred objects of all kinds found on public lands and put in the curatorial hands of federal agencies. These items were taken from their homelands and displayed in museums, visitor centers and universities all around the country. Now it seemed there would be a legal process for their return. The Park Service wanted to better understand how this could be done.


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Holly, Round 2, and a Tip of the “Tuque” to Canada

My post last month thanking Holly Holm for her “powerful kick to the head” brought different reactions from men and women. Of course there were exceptions (as you see in the comments following the post), but in general the reaction of those whose paths I crossed fell into two camps.  Men were amused and a little titillated I think. “I didn’t know you were into kick boxing! I better watch out,” with a feigning block of the head, was the gist of it. Women on the other hand were critical that I praised a woman for trying to emulate a man, especially the less attractive aspects of what they consider manliness – brutality.


I was surprised. Both kinds of readers seemed to overlook my point – that when we are confronted with horror at the hands of fellow humans (as in terror attacks), some of us, me included, have a deep instinct to lash out and clobber those brutalizers. Holly offered me that vicariously.


But did I miss something? Is a female mixed martial artist trying to be like a man? Should women somehow aspire to a higher, more civilized way of relating to each other, of expressing ourselves? (For that matter, shouldn’t we all aspire to that?)  I thought about it a lot, and came to this conclusion:  Holly Holm loves to compete (more…)

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A Powerful Kick to the Head

OK, I’m going to lose some of you, hopefully not for good. Just bear with me. I think there’s something important here, although I’m not quite sure what it is.

Holly Holm, tearing up

Living in New Mexico, I have been following Holly Holm for years. She is what they call a mixed martial artist, and at 135 pounds, she competes in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Bantam Division. An Albuquerque native, she was trained as a boxer – including kick boxing – and is known as the “Preacher’s Daughter” in fighting circles. I have had a soft spot for this tough as nails athlete because of her straightforward, honest demeanor, and because she cries a lot. At almost every press conference or pre- or post- fight interview she cries – because she loves her supporters so much, because she really hopes she can do well and make everyone proud, because she is thinking about her family, or for no seeming reason except that her emotions are close to the surface. I cry a lot, too, and I have always identified with this weepy warrior.


On November 14, the day after the terrorist attacks in Paris, Holly took on the world UFC champion Ronda Rousey in Melbourne, Australia. I saw her interviewed before she left, fighting back (more…)

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Glimpses of Japan

We just returned from 18 days in Japan. My last blog was a highlight (or should I say lowlight) of our last visit there in 2010. Blessedly this trip was full of good health, plus outstanding food, beautiful scenery and the world’s most gracious people.  It was one of those experiences that is so packed with sensory overload that it is hard to know what to say when someone asks “How was your trip?” Fabulous, of course, but so much more. A flood of sights, sounds, smells washes over me. A host of faces smile at me.

So, here are some glimpses.

kimura bedroom 2015
Where we slept in Hiroshima

BELONGING:  Our daughter-in-law is Japanese. She grew up in Hiroshima, and her family (four generations) live there in a new two-story house in a neighborhood not far from the train station and the new baseball stadium. Hiromi’s grandma, Riuko Takazawa, a teacher and well-known painter, lived in a traditional, tile-roofed, soji-screened house, and when it was scheduled for destruction in the path of urban renewal, she put her (tiny) foot down and refused to sign the city’s permission paper. They begged and cajoled, and (more…)

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Compassion Priceless

In my August post I reflected on the kindness of strangers with a couple of stories. And because the subject is so worthy, here is a dramatic example from 2010.

In 2010 my husband and I joined a group of high school students going to Bali to study art. After a month of music, painting, puppet making and dance –as well as sweating profusely and slapping mosquitoes –we headed for home, stopping in Japan for a few days. Our first morning there my husband woke with a fever of 103 and a full body rash. The hotel had a thermometer but no doctor. As the fever neared 104 we hailed a cab for the Hiroshima City Hospital. I had frantically pieced together shujinwa byoki des — my husband is sick from my pocket dictionary and blurted it out to the cab driver, who took one look at us and stepped on the gas.

Roberto’s name, lower right quadrant, on the door to his room at Hiroshima City Hospital.

In the large, orderly waiting room, we were the only Caucasians. Roberto was a sight, lobster-red and wild-eyed. Staff and patients politely averted their eyes. A nurse led us to the lab for blood work, and after filling several tubes, she withdrew the needle and pressed a gauze pad on the site. Roberto bent his arm and held the gauze in place until she motioned that he could take it off. But when he straightened his arm the gauze pad, red and soggy, fell onto the floor, and a fountain of blood squirted in the air. I was going to laugh until I looked at the nurse. Her eyes were wide with fear. She applied new gauze and whisked us upstairs where a bed and IV waited in room 575. (more…)

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You Are a Bus

[We took our grandsons to see Inside Out, the recent Pixar movie. It was entertaining with a good message about the value of our different selves. I was reminded of a device I invented years ago to help explain myself to myself — described below. I call it the Bus Lecture.]

bus 8-2015I’ll let you in on a little secret. Maybe it will help you sometime. This is the way it works. Imagine you are a bus – not on a bus, but you are the bus. You can be whatever kind of bus you want. You might choose an ancient Blue Bird school bus, now part of the Guatemalan bus system, chugging up hills, puffing blue smoke, grinding gears, festooned inside with silken fringes, Virgin Marys, Mickey Mouses, and lots of ignored signs about not standing in the aisles or talking to the driver. Or, you may be a Greyhound Scenicruiser, with big high stairs, air conditioning, a lavatory in the back, and seats that recline with that material like a very, very short crew cut. Or, you may be a private coach, like Willie Nelson has, a huge van equipped with everything, including beds. Or maybe it’s a good, solid bus from the Transit System, reliable, clean, swift, efficient, with plenty of ads to read on the ceiling above the seats, and environmentally responsible, running on natural gas or even electricity. My only advice is that you choose a roomy bus. A mini van will not do. Trust me.


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The Kindness of Strangers

I was at a gathering of colleagues from around the country recently. We meet once a year to catch up with each other and exchange news, both professional and personal. One member had lost his wife a few months before and spoke of the experience in detail, her courage and humor, their adult children’s return home to be with her, their very special time together and her inevitable and final decline. He was emotional, of course, as were we who listened, but he was able to tell the story with control – until he talked about their friends and neighbors, old and new, and how generous they were, how they visited and supported the family in such beautiful ways. Here, he broke down. It was too much, remembering their kindness. It touched him deeply and in a different way from the experience of profound grief that infused his every cell.

I mentioned this to him, and he agreed. There is something particularly touching about “strangers” (non-family) who feel our grief and make an effort to meet us there in that sad place. Of course his friends and neighbors were not strangers; they were close and caring people. But they were not family members; they did not have to be there. I can imagine they brought food, cards, books, flowers, condolences. But their most important gift was their love and compassion. Our conversation reminded him of a visit to Israel where he saw a memorial walkway to non-Jews who helped Jewish people during the holocaust. As a Jew, when he walked between the plaques and trees planted in honor of each rescuer he was moved to tears in this same way. These were people who reached out because it was the right thing to do, the human thing to do.

paper cranes 3
origami paper cranes, Hiroshima

Several years ago we made a trip to Japan to visit our new in-laws. My son had married a woman from Hiroshima and we wanted to meet her family and learn a bit about her culture. Hiroshima was an emotional place for us New Mexicans, whose home state was the birthplace of the atomic bomb. Every cab driver, every waiter knew New Mexico; not one made us feel unwelcome or responsible for the devastation of their city in 1945. But we felt a special obligation to visit the Peace Park and pay our respects to the victims of the bomb. Needless to say it is a very emotional experience for any visitor, and for us it was especially powerful. (more…)

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Who We Are

Last month’s post “Anglo Sisters” brought a comment I was not expecting.  After taking liberties with women from Texas, I was sure I would get a response or two from that corner, but not a one. Instead I received a thought provoking message from a cousin. She and I share a great great grandmother who was Dakota and Ojibway, and she began with a question: How do you think your ancestors would feel if they knew that you were totally denying your Indian heritage?

I was stunned. I would never deny that heritage. I honor and treasure it, and share it when appropriate. Did it occur to me to mention it in “Anglo Sisters”? No. That was a story about identifying with a culture that is not yours, and learning to identify with the one you were born into. I identify myself as Anglo, I was raised Anglo, I am seen as Anglo, I have had all the advantages of being Anglo. I am not hiding all the other ancestors that contributed to my particular being; they are making themselves known in ways I cannot imagine.  But most of the time the fact that I have an Indian great great grandmother is not relevant. And especially here in the southwest I am hypersensitive to the danger of appearing to be part of the “wannabe” tribe, those who have a trace (or not even) of Indian blood but who “wannabe” native and masquerade as a tribal person.

So, end of subject? Of course not. I continue to muse on this question of who we are, who we appear to be, and how to be honest with ourselves and others. Why did it not occur to me to mention my Indian ancestor in “Anglo Sisters”? Was I really in denial? Did I sacrifice the truth of my identity for the sake of a good story? I can defend myself on all these points, but still the questions are worth asking. (more…)

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Anglo Sisters

sky city mesa

[For those of you not in the Southwest, the term Anglo usually means anyone not Indian, more or less synonymous with White.]

It’s embarrassing, but one of the hardest things about being Anglo for me has been admitting it. After years living in Navajo country and more years working with Pueblos and tribes, I sometimes drift into some kind of fantasy that I am not really Anglo, that I am almost an Indian, that I am more non-White than White. Of course this is not true, and I try as quickly as possible to bring myself back to reality before I do anything that might embarrass myself and others. One memory that helps bring me back comes from Acoma Pueblo several years ago.

I had a free day and decided to indulge myself and go to the traditional dances at Acoma Pueblo. I jumped in the car, zipped through Albuquerque, turned west toward Acoma, then south to the pueblo’s mesa top. I spotted it in the distance, rising hundreds of feet off the valley floor, so beautiful, so powerful. I felt very lucky to be on my way to a special ceremony in a community that would welcome me and all others who came with respect. (more…)

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Getting Out of the Way

getting out of the way photo 2015I went to have blood drawn the other day. As I waited in the crowded waiting room, I watched the technicians open the door to the blood drawing area and call out a name.  Which one will call my name, I wondered. I hope it is a good one, not one who has insomnia, is mad at a spouse, had a fender bender on the way to work, is suffering from low blood sugar and needs a candy bar. Finally my turn came. A middle-aged, cheerful woman named Maureen ushered me into the cubicle, where I sat down and rolled up a sleeve. She tied the tubing tight around my upper arm and began patting the area where she hoped for a plump vein. There were too many “hmmms” and “arrghs” for my comfort and when she finally pricked the skin and began exploring it was painful. Now, the noises were coming from me. She was full of apologies as she abandoned that site, put a bandaid on, and said she would have to try the other arm. (more…)

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