Rappahannock tribe reacquires 465 acres of ancestral homelands

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland congratulates the tribe as Rappahannock Chief Anne Richardson calls the day ‘miraculous’

The federally-recognized Rappahannock tribe in Virginia celebrated the re-acquisition of 465 acres of ancestral lands at Fones Cliffs on April 1, 2022. The four-mile stretch of lands, which are located east of the Rappahannock River, have long been considered sacred lands by the tribe.

Prior to a formal ceremony celebrating the land transfer, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams met with tribal leaders and community members of the 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,” said Secretary Haaland in a Interior press announcement.

“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.”

Chief Anne Richardson told Native Viewpoint “It’s been a phenomenal acquisition, it’s been miraculous and truly unbelievable.”  

Richardson says she was appreciative to Haaland and the Biden Administration for their efforts in the “America the Beautiful” initiative — which is part of an initiative to “support local and tribal-led efforts to conserve, connect, and restore lands and waters.”  

“We were incredibly honored that she was there,” said Richardson regarding Haaland.

“Relationships, knowledge-sharing and co-stewardship with Indigenous peoples are essential to the Service’s mission,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director 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.” 

The 465 acres returned to the Rappahannock is known as Fones Cliffs, a four-mile stretch of land, which is the ancestral home of the tribe. The area is significant as it is one of the largest nesting areas for bald eagles on the Atlantic Coast.

Fones Cliff, the ancestral lands of the Rappahannock. (Twitter)

Prior to the arrival of colonists, the Rappahannock lived in three villages known as the Wecuppom, Matchopick and Pissacoak. The tribe defended their lands against John Smith during his explorations in 1608.

The Rappahannock is planning to create trails and build a replica of a 16th-century village to educate the public about Rappahannock history. The tribe will also be expanding their “Return to the River” program which provides opportunities for tribal youth to learn traditional ways of the tribe in connection to the Rappahannock River.

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