Native American tribe reclaims its land in Virginia after being displaced nearly 400 years ago


The Rappahannock Tribe, a native Virginian people, has reacquired 465 acres of “sacred land” on Fones Cliff.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and US Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams welcomed the tribe’s repurchase of the land, according to an Interior Department press release.

“We have worked for many years to restore this sacred place to the tribe,” Rappahannock Tribal Chief Anne Richardson said, according to the Chesapeake Conservancy.

“With the eagles as messengers of prayer, this area where they gather has always been a place of natural, cultural and spiritual importance,” he added.

Fones Cliff, home of the Rappahannock Tribe

Fones Cliff is the ancestral home of the tribe, located on the east side of the Rappahannock River in Virginia. The area, located within the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge, will be publicly accessible 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-managing this part of their ancestral land. We look forward to harnessing tribal expertise and indigenous knowledge to help manage the area’s wildlife and habitat,” Secretary Haaland said in the statement.

Union soldiers from the Army of the Potomac under Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside attempt to cross the Rappahannock River in torrential rain on Jan. 20, 1863. (Photo by Illustrated London News/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)”

“This historic repurchase underscores how tribes, private landowners and other stakeholders play a central role in this Administration’s work to ensure that our conservation efforts are locally led and support the health and well-being of communities.”

The cliffs play a central role in the history of the tribe. In 1608, the tribe first met and defended their homeland against English settler Captain John Smith.who played a major role in the first permanent English settlement in America at Jamestown, Virginia.

In the 1660s, the tribe began to be forcibly displaced from their homeland on the Rappahannock River by the English, according to the Chesapeake Conservancy.

In addition to their cultural and historical importance to the tribe, the bluffs are also crucial to wildlife: The site is home to one of the largest nesting populations of bald eagles on the Atlantic coast, according to the Department of the Interior.

The tribe’s repurchase of the land 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.

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