A colleague called the other day to ask about reconciliation. No, we had not had a fight or a feud. He lives in Hawaii and works with thorny issues involving Native Hawaiian communities. He wanted to talk about my experience working with Native Americans on the mainland. Was reconciliation part of the mediation process and if so how did it work? We exchanged stories but came to no conclusions. We weren’t even sure how to define reconciliation. Did it need an apology? By whom? Written or spoken? How about a process for hearing stories, like the Truth and Reconciliation efforts? Should there be some legislation or memorials? An annual day of observance? Plaques, monuments? Should money – or land—change hands? All good questions, and all possible parts of the whole.
Today there is a lot of talk about reconciliation, in the US and other countries dealing with historical abuse and displacement of Indigenous people. The shocking boarding school deaths and mistreatment, (physically, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually) are the latest revelations, among many others, in Canada and the US. Indigenous groups demand justice, compensation, reconciliation; government representatives seem often paralyzed, not knowing what is needed, who should provide it and how to go about it.
You know how some movies have out takes at the end? The hero misses the punch and jams his hand into a bowl of fruit. The kissing scene is interrupted by a giant moth who wants in on the action. Or, lines are flubbed again, and again, until everyone dissolves in laughter. I love those scenes. They show us a glimpse of reality, what it is really like to make a movie. And they show us that these are just human beings doing a job, however imperfectly. That got me thinking about my profession – mediation and facilitation – and out takes that I could show at the end of the movie titled, “Lucy Saves the Day,” or “Mediators: Warriors for Peace” or … well, you get the idea. So, I’ll spare you the movie, and just give you the out takes, moments from my decades of practice that make me smile.
“Hmmm…where is that place?” – I was facilitating a meeting for the Forest Service in northern New Mexico. About a dozen very rural, somewhat eccentric community members were standing in front of a wall- sized map of their local national forest. The Forest Service staff were there hoping to find out how and where local people used the forest. I was proud of this interactive tool, primitive by today’s standards but in the 1980s quite a novelty. I asked people to come forward, take a marker and indicate on the map the spots where they fished, cut wood, hiked, hunted, etc. There were different colored markers for different kinds of uses. The maps were covered with clear plastic, so they could erase and re-draw if they needed to. No one wanted to break the ice, or make the first mark. I was worried my great innovation was a flop. I saw an aging hippie woman, spilling out of her bib overalls and with a head of wild gray hair, staring at the map for a long time, the marker dangling in her hand. I encouraged her. “Do you want to put something up there, some forest use?” I asked innocently. “Well,” she said dreamily, “I’m just trying to remember…a long time ago… where it was that I laid that man at….” I suggested we could call that “recreational use” and she marked the spot.