Friday, April 26, 2013

No Control

Sometimes we have little or no control over what happens or what we do. Every April 15, we have to file and pay our income taxes or face fines or even jail. If we want to fly on an airplane, we have no choice but to go through a metal detector and perhaps be searched. On a much more serious level, sometimes we face cancer or a heart attack or stroke and have no choice but to undergo medical treatment.

Wednesday, we faced a situation where we felt we had no control. It ended up costing a couple hours out of our day and untold frustration and some embarrassment. It is times like this when I realize just how important it is to me to be in control. That is almost always the issue when I have conflicts with the people in my life or issues with the circumstances life presents.

Two years ago we spent several days in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and visited Bandelier National Monument. We saw some information about Tent Rocks NM and wanted to check it out this time, while staying at the Cochiti Lake COE Campground, about 15 miles from Tent Rocks. We drove there Wednesday morning. Just before the monument entrance, we saw a Cochiti Pueblo graveyard. Because of our experience owning a funeral home, we often visit cemeteries examine the monuments and markers and take photos.

As we drove past, I took 2 pictures with my iPhone; then, I saw a sign that said, “No Photographs.” I turned off the camera. Moments later were stopped at the guard house. An attendant appeared and we gave him our Annual Pass. Our attention was quickly diverted by a knock on my passenger side window. It was a man who motioned for me to open my window. When I did he said he saw me take pictures of the cemetery and he would have to confiscate my iPhone. What! You have to be kidding. Those were my thoughts, not my words. I explained that as soon as I saw the “no photos” sign, I stopped taking pictures. He asked if I had deleted them. I said no, but I would be happy to do so right then. He said there were 3 signs saying no photographs and he would have to seize the camera and take it to the “Cochiti Pueblo Governor, who would decide if I could have it back or not. As it turned out, there was a funeral that day and he wouldn’t be able to give the iPhone to the governor until at least 2 in the afternoon.

I have learned that, though the squeaky wheel gets the grease, an uproar often makes the situation worse. So, we tried to reason with the man. John asked the man for identification and he produced a badge. If we had been on property governed by the United States and New Mexico, no one could seize our camera that way. But we were on an Indian reservation and they have their own laws. The man would not consider any alternative, he demanded our iPhone. We surrendered the phone after he gave us his name.

We felt we had no control. We couldn’t even appeal to the laws of our country. Although I felt like spitting nails, we quietly asked for directions to the governor’s office. Although not in any way nasty, the encounter had been decidedly unpleasant.

At the tribal headquarters, we learned the governor was at the funeral. His secretary told us she would call us when the governor returned from the funeral. We told her the seized cell phone was the only one we had with us. She responded saying the governor may not return for two to three hours. Our response was to sit in her office and wait for the governor no matter how long it took. About 20-30 minutes later, another reservation police officer (the chief?) appeared in the secretary’s office. Naturally he wanted to know why two old Anglos were quietly sitting in the governor’s reception area. We explained to him the same thing we told the secretary. His response was to invite us to go to the free lunch at the community center while we waited. We politely declined.

Our presence, two old white people sitting in the tribal office, was a subtle form of pressure, or at least discomfort to those there. The Post Office is next door to the governor’s office, and residents of the Pueblo kept walking into the governor’s office. Every one of them greeted us with a smile and a friendly “hello”. They were friendly people...each probably wondering who we were.

About 1 ½ hours after our arrival, the governor returned from the funeral. When he encountered us he had obviously already been informed of the situation. He simply told us he was sending someone to pick up the cell phone from the officer who had seized it. In another few minutes, a woman came in and informed us she were retrieve the phone and return in a few minutes.

Someone going through everything on my phone felt like a real violation—search and seizure without a warrant. She returned shortly, said she had deleted the two photos and cautioned us that photography was no allowed anywhere on the reservation.

So we left. Needless to say, we didn’t visit Tent Rocks NM, which is located within the reservation. We wanted out of there. It didn’t feel safe. And I guess when I don’t feel safe; I know I am not in control.

The Daily Office gospel for Wednesday from Luke said, “if anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat, to not withhold even your shirt likewise.” Those words reverberated through our thoughts as we were sitting in that reception area. Our situation…our emotions…our response was framed in the passage we had both read before we found ourselves in this situation.

I am afraid that surrender of control was something we both really struggled with Wednesday. Thursday, we drove to Santa Fe and rewarded ourselves with a lunch at the La Fonda Hotel , but that is part of another post.


  1. While reading this it just made me more and more angry. I would have been hard pressed to allow them to take the phone. If deleting the photos in front of the officer wasn't sufficient I would have been willing to go to the headquarters, phone in hand and waited until someone with some small degree of sense could meet with me and then delete them.

    Of course, you have no control when you interact with any law enforcement official and some officers abuse their authority which it appears happened here.

    We enjoyed our visit to Tent Rocks luckily we didn't offend any sacred sensibilities or if we did they didn't know it.


  2. First, I feel blessed to see your citation of Scripture. The whole situation is pathetic. It reminds me of the photo/video policy at the "overlook" at the West Grand Canyon - a place I have no plans of ever going. As one having significant Native American heritage, I am shocked that these nations which are mostly suffer from unspeakable poverty, poor management, and a few fatcats who own casinos, I'm shocked that they push people away who might invigorate their economy.

    You handled the situation very well so kudos. This is a classic case of having no control and then taking it out on people who come in peace and respect. Shameful.

  3. Unlike the two previous commenters, here's how I see it. John & Carol were in a sovereign nation--not in the United States. Although meaning no harm, they unknowingly violated that nation's laws. The Cochiti tribe members they dealt with were, by John & Carol's own account, firm but courteous. They were delayed a couple of hours, and then allowed to go their way without paying any fine. They were even invited to share a free lunch!

    Now, I too own an iPhone, and I can well imagine how unhappy I'd feel if an officer confiscated it. But if I had been caught photographing, say, a US Air Force base, it would not be surprising if that happened. Indians are very sensitive about their burial sites, just as we are about military bases.

    This wasn't an abuse of authority on the part of the Cochiti law officers; they were following their laws. And in case you think confiscating a phone is extreme, bear in mind that US Border Patrol employees are legally able to confiscate your cell phone or laptop at any border crossing, and to take as long as they need to completely copy and examine the contents.

    So to summarize: John & Carol made a mistake, but got away with nothing worse than an annoying delay. They handled the situation well by not ranting and raving about the "injustice" of it. The Cochiti people they came in contact with also handled the situation well, extending courtesy and even friendliness to the (unwitting) lawbreakers. There's no villain here... only a lesson: when you enter a foreign country, understand the laws.

    By the way, photography *is* permitted at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. Photographing an Indian burial ground... that's a different story.

  4. I feel compelled to agree with Andy's explanation. It is a well-thought out response that is both correct and logical. I would be guessing, but when John and Carol read the above passage, I think they will agree with Andy's viewpoint.

    To be truthful, had the same thing happened to me I would have deleted the photos immediately after seeing the sign. Then when the officer approached I would have shown him the phone without any photos and apologized. That might have been the end of the story, however, admittedly, the officer still could have asked to confiscate my phone. In that event, I would have been upset but I did break the law. I would have then pursued all avenues to retrieve my phone within their country's laws.

  5. Simply unbelievable! Do they have surveillance cameras on the cemetery to watch for people taking pictures? The whole situation is crazy and the story will make me less confident the next time I'm on Indian land.

  6. Andy has it "right on the money." It was unfortunate, but John and Carol handled it well. I'm sorry that they had to have this experience, but it "does" help us all be prepared in similar situations.