Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Indian Reservations (the Weirdness Thereof)

For those that don't know, I am doing land titling/land use/development/one of those oddly titled and proportioned jobs on an American Indian Reservation this summer. It's interesting stuff and I am enjoying most every minute of it. But sometimes, weird things happen.

On this reservation, much of the waterfront property is owned by non-Indians. Most of them are friendly folk, here in their second homes or in a family home while they work in Everett or enjoy the retired life. It's a bit odd (read: very odd) to see proudly flown Union Jacks on an Indian Reservation, but hey, you don't choose your ancestry.

They are, however, the most tenacious defenders of their private property I've ever seen. High walls, prickly bushes, and every other machination to separate their land from the rest of the Reservation and even each other. It's charming to see all of these little compounds-by-the-shore, they are quite beautiful. But I wish that their guard dogs didn't bark and chase me down the street for a quarter mile every time I jog past their house on my lunch-break run.

It's a strange dichotomy. Most of the Tribal property on the Reservation is communal; the admin building, the school, the homeless shelter, the retirement home, and yes, the casino, the gas station, and the smoke shop. Most of the non-Indian property is gated off within an inch of its borders. Even outside of these borders are the guard dogs, patrolling the street for interlopers. The waterwards boundaries of these properties are even more interesting; armored with bulkheads and revetments to prevent the loss of property to the sea. Bulkheads may stop your property from erosion, but they force waves to chew through beaches and destroy habitats, spitting out the sand (and the energy) next door. The neighbor then buys a bulkhead to push the problem on his neighbor.

It's not a Tragedy of the Commons, it's a simple fear of public space. Public space - the road and the beach - are where danger happens. Instead of turning them into communal areas, the houses turn their backs to them. It isn't because of crime, it's because of the specter of crime.

These ownership policies aren't destroying Reservations. A century and a half of misuse, drug abuse, lack of access to education, and a whole laundry list of "what else" have far more to do with that. But dang, it's not really helping, now, is it? If a kid can't jog down a street without the fear of getting bitten, why should we listen when your lawyers tell us you want to work with the Tribe to help "community members"? And why aren't we included in the list of "community members"?

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