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Hallowed ground is returned to the Rappahannock tribe in Virginia

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams celebrated the tribe’s land reacquisition on Friday, according to an Interior Department press release.
“We have worked for many years to restore this sacred place to the tribe,” Rappahannock Tribe Chief Anne Richardson said, according to the Chesapeake Conservancy. “As eagles are messengers of prayer, this area where they congregate has always been a place of natural, cultural and spiritual significance.”

Fones Cliff is the tribe’s ancestral home, located on the east side of the Rappahannock River in Virginia. The area, located inside the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge, will be accessible to the public and entrusted to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The tribe plans to educate the public about its history by building a replica of a 16th-century village and expanding its “Back to the River” program, which trains tribal youth in traditional river knowledge and practices.

“The Department is honored to join the Rappahannock Tribe in co-stewardship of this part of their ancestral homeland. We look forward to leveraging tribal expertise and Indigenous knowledge to help manage wildlife and habitat for the region,” Secretary Haaland said in the statement. “This historic reacquisition underscores how central 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 health and wellness. communities.”

The cliffs play a central role in the history of the tribe. In 1608, the tribe first encountered and defended their homeland against the English settler, Captain John Smith, who played an important role in the first permanent English settlement in America at Jamestown, Virginia. In the 1660s, the tribe began to be forcibly removed from their homeland on the Rappahannock River by the English, according to the Chesapeake Conservancy.

Besides their cultural and historical significance to the tribe, the cliffs are also crucial for wildlife: The site is home to one of the largest breeding populations of bald eagles on the Atlantic coast, according to the Department of the Interior.

The tribe’s reacquisition of his lands was made possible by the family of William Dodge Angle, who provided the necessary funds for the Chesapeake Conservancy to purchase the 465 acres and donate title to the Rappahannock Tribe. Additional funding also came from a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation through Walmart’s Acres for America program, according to the conservation.

The acquisition follows a growing movement of Indigenous peoples fighting to reclaim their lands.
In 2019, the Wiyot Tribe successfully reclaimed their ancestral homeland of Duluwat Island on California’s northern coast after more than a century of displacement. And earlier this year, more than 500 acres of California forests were returned to a group of Native American tribes.

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