US Secretary of the Interior Oversees Return of 465 Acres to Rappahannock Tribe in Virginia

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The Rappahannock Tribe repurchased 465 acres of land at Fones Cliffs in Richmond County on April 1. Fones Cliffs is a sacred site for the tribe located on the east side of the Rappahannock River, and they were forcibly removed from the cliffs in 1649 after English settlers stole valuable farmland.

The native fish, birds and plant species along the river are culturally significant to the tribe – and the land is notably home to bald eagles, which are sacred to them. Fones Cliffs is also an Important Bird Area designated by the National Audubon Society.

“We have worked for many years to restore this sacred place to the tribe. Because eagles are messengers of prayer, this area where they congregate has always been a place of natural, cultural and spiritual significance,” says Rappahannock Tribe Chief Anne Richardson.

Acres of Fones Cliff will be accessible to the public, and the tribe will plan trails and a replica of a 16th-century village so that tribal citizens can educate the public about the history of the Rappahannock tribe and Indigenous approaches to conservation .

The tribe will also connect future generations of young Rappahannock to their tribal traditions and the river that bears their name.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said the department looks forward to “drawing on tribal expertise and indigenous knowledge to help manage the region’s wildlife and habitat”, noting that the reacquisition history shows how tribes and other local stakeholders can ensure that the nation’s conservation efforts support the health and well-being of communities.

The land will be held with a permanent conservation easement conveyed to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Chesapeake Conservancy, a nonprofit conservation organization that helps build parks, trails, and public access sites, donated the easement to the USFWS and then the royalty title to the tribe.

“This is a significant step forward in the overall goal of saving approximately 2,000 acres at Fones Cliffs, a haven for wildlife and waterfowl, and one of the most beautiful places in the Chesapeake and indeed , of the world,” said Joel Dunn, president and CEO of the Chesapeake Conservancy.

The Rappahannock tribe lived in at least three villages on the cliffs – Wecuppom, Matchopick and Pissacoack – before contact with the English. Fones Cliffs is where the tribe first met and defended their home against John Smith in 1608.

The Rappahannock Tribe is a federally recognized sovereign nation headquartered at Indian Neck in King & Queen County. The cliffs and other areas surrounding the Rappahannock River are the tribe’s ancestral lands, and they continue to live and conduct traditional cultural practices along the river.

“We have a lot of work to do to right many wrongs inflicted on tribal communities, but milestones like this are a powerful reminder that meaningful action is possible and necessary,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, who presented for the first time the 2018 legislation that recognized six Virginia Tribes, including the Rappahannock.

Additional funding to conserve the 465 ancestral lands comes from a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation through Walmart’s Acres for America program.

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