On Friday, the Department of the Interior (DOI) announced that it would be returning over 400 acres of land in Virginia to the Rappahannock Native American tribe.
On the eastern side of the Rappahannock River lies the Fones Cliffs. There, the Rappahannock people call roughly 465 acres of the land their home. As a result, the DOI was happy to return the land to its rightful residents. In the eyes of the law, the Rappahannock tribe will own and maintain this land. However, the site, located within the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge will still be available to the public.
Last week, in a press release, the Department announced its efforts.
“The Department is honored to join the Rappahannock Tribe in co-stewardship of this portion of their ancestral homeland. We look forward to drawing upon Tribal expertise and Indigenous knowledge in helping manage the area’s wildlife and habitat,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “This historic reacquisition underscores how Tribes, private landowners, and other stakeholders all play a central role in this Administration’s work to ensure our conservation efforts are locally led and support communities’ health and well-being.”
Likewise, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was just as happy about the arrangement.
“Relationships, knowledge-sharing and co-stewardship with Indigenous peoples are essential to the Service’s mission,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams. “We have the direction and tools to ensure collaboration between the Service and Tribes, and to protect cultural, trust and treaty resources on Service lands in support of our shared priority of conserving fish, wildlife and their habitats.”
Virginia Native American Tribe Plans to Use Reclaimed Lands for Educational Purposes
Not only will the reclaimed lands serve a symbolic purpose for the Native American tribe of Virginia. They will also act as a source of education. The Rappahannock people hope to teach the public about their history in Fone Cliffs. Back in the early 1600s, this was where the tribe first defended their lands against English settler Captain John Smith. Less than a century later, these settlers uprooted the Native American people from their homes along the Rappahannock River.
In addition, the cliffs have one of the largest nesting populations of bald eagles on the Atlantic coast. Sharing the reclaimed lands with these creatures feels like the perfect ending to the story.
“We have worked for many years to restore this sacred place to the Tribe. With eagles being prayer messengers, this area where they gather has always been a place of natural, cultural and spiritual importance,” Rappahannock Tribe Chief Anne Richardson said in a statement, according to Chesapeake Conservancy.
Along with the DOI, the parties responsible for the reacquisition of lands was the family of William Dodge Angle, who provided the funds necessary for the Chesapeake Conservancy to purchase the 465 acres. Meanwhile, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, too, supplied additional funding through Walmart’s Acres for America Program.