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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