Local Indigenous groups worry Bears Ears Monument will limit access to ritual space

By Joseph Hammond, Religion News Service
September 28, 2021

As the daughter of a nonagenarian Navajo medicine woman, Ana Tom is used to long road trips. Tom supports her mother Betty Jones' role as a traditional healer by taking her far from San Juan County, Utah, to look for rare herbs for use in various traditional medicines important for Navajo rituals.

“There isn't a lot of [elders] who know where to collect the herbs and what is needed, and sometimes we have taken her past Reno and even up to Lake Tahoe to collect herbs. My father, who was a medicine man, would go to Texas for wild tobacco, and that is a trip we also do.”

Taking any plant from Mother Earth, even the smallest thing, involves a prayer, she said. Most of the herbs her family uses are readily available in the area surrounding Bears Ears, two twin buttes that jut up more than 8,000 feet above sea level. Like nearly 65% of Utah, the Bears Ears stand on federal land, though their current status is likely to change.

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