Recently, a Native Tribe called Rappahannock Tribe in Virginia has reclaimed around 465 acres of sacred land at Fones Cliff. According to a press release from the Department of the Interior, Martha Williams, secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, and US Fish and Director of Wildlife Service celebrated the reacquisition of the sacred land.

Fones Cliff belongs to the Rappahannock tribe. It is their ancestral home. The publically reachable land is placed in trust with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The land is located on the eastern side of the Rappahannock River, Virginia. To be more precise, the area is located at the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

 

According to the Chesapeake Conservancy, “We have worked for many years to restore this sacred place to the Tribe,” said Anne Richardson, Rappahannock Tribe Chief, “With eagles being prayer messengers, this area where they gather has always been a place of natural, cultural and spiritual importance.”

The tribe is planning to construct a replication of a 16th-century village to teach the public and visitors about their culture and history. Also, the “Return to the River” program will have mushroomed. This program trains Tribal youth in traditional river knowledge and practices.

Rappahannock Tribe
Rappahannock Tribe

“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,” Secretary Haaland said in the statement. “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.”

The cliffs play a major part in the history of the tribe. The tribe first came up against Captain John Smith —- who played an important role in the first permanent English settlement in America at Jamestown, Virginia —- and defended their homeland against English settlers in 1608. According to the Chesapeake Conservancy, In the 1660s, the tribe was forcefully dislodged from their homeland on the Rappahannock River by the English.

 

The cliffs are also pivotal to wildlife along with their cultural and historical significance to the tribe. According to the Department of the Interior, this area is home to one of the largest nesting populations of bald eagles on the Atlantic coast.

The reacquisition of its land to the tribe was actualized by the family of William Dodge Angle, who provided the funds necessary for the Chesapeake Conservancy to reclaim the 465 acres and donate the ownership to the Rappahannock Tribe. Additionally, the funding also came from a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation through Walmart’s Acres for America Program.

The procurement of the land follows a growing movement of Indigenous people fighting to get back their homeland.

 

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