The greater Bears Ears area encompasses more than 1.9 million acres and is saturated with geological, cultural, spiritual, ecological, and archaeological diversity. Located in the southeastern corner of the land commonly known as the state of Utah, the region is defined by two 8,000-foot mountain buttes that rise above the landscape, twin plateaus resembling the ears of a large bear peeking over the northern horizon. The Hopi Tribe calls this land Hoon’Naqvut; for the Navajo, it is known as Shash Jaa’. For the Ute Tribe it is Kwiyagatu Nukavachiand for the Pueblo of Zuni, Ansh An Lashokdiwe. In each language it is “Bears Ears.”
The Greater Chaco Canyon area is a significant historical, archaeological and sacred site in northwest New Mexico. From the 9th to the 11th century, it was the center of the Pueblo civilization, and was comprised of dense apartment-like structures (pueblos), roads and plazas. The site is considered sacred to multiple Native American tribes and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987.
The Back Forty Mine is a proposed open pit metallic sulfide mine that would sit 100 feet from the banks of the sacred Menominee River in Lake Township, Michigan. The project is backed by Canadian development company Aquila Resources and if it proceeds, will threaten the water security of the millions who rely on Lake Michigan.
Arizona’s sacred Oak Flat is threatened with mining by a multinational corporation.
Where the life-giving Rio Grande enters the Gulf of Mexico south of Port Isabel, Texas, you might expect to find land sacred to Native Americans, and indeed, the Garcia Pasture has burials, discrete shell working areas, and contact period artifacts of the Esto’k Gna, the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas. Garcia Pasture is considered one of the premier prehistoric archaeological sites in Cameron County by the National Park Service and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Juristac lies at the heart of the ancestral lands of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band near Gilroy, California. For thousands of years, the Mutsun’s ancestors lived and held sacred ceremonies at this location in the southern foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, above the confluence of the Pajaro and San Benito rivers.
Weatherman Draw in southcentral Montana is a valley that contains the largest collection of Native American rock art on the continent.
Woodruff Butte is a volcanic cinder cone that is known as Tsimontukwi to the Hopi. It is one of nine major pilgrimage shrines that encircle Hopi traditional territory, and was for many years the site of nine clan shrines, until eight were destroyed by mining.
While many threats to sacred places come from natural-resource extraction and development, a different sort of battle continues in Wyoming, at a place the Lakota call Mato Tipila (The Lodge of the Bear), better known as Devils Tower.
The Supreme Court case known as G-O Road set an extremely damaging precedent regarding legal protection of Native American sacred sites on federal land.