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Rappahannock Tribe Regains Land at Fones Cliffs

Pamela D'Angelo

You've likely have heard the story of Captain John Smith's famous encounter with the Rappahannock Tribe. While exploring the Rappahannock River, the tribe shot arrows at them from Fones Cliffs.

Over the weekend, tribal descendants were given back a piece of ancestral property just behind those cliffs.

When the Chesapeake Conservancy approached former Senator John Warner and his daughter Virginia about purchasing just under an acre of property for the tribe, they didn't hesitate.

"It's a magical place and nothing like it anywhere else in American in terms of its history and confluence of natural wildlife."


"It's perfectly fitting for the Rappahannock Tribe to have back their little piece of land, after so long."

Chief of the Rappahannock Tribe Anne Richardson has big plans for this tiny piece of pristine land.

"To be able to take our children back to the river and return those ancient traditions and knowledge to them, even canoeing. The medicinals that come off of the river, the foods that come off of the river that sustained our people here for thousands of years."

Credit Pamela D'Angelo
Members of the tribe's drum group called "Maskapow" which means "Worst of Enemies" in tribal language of Algonquin. (In the photo clockwise starting at the bottom left: Cochise Fortune, Matt Larson,Chad Fortune,Mark Fortune,Reese Fortune, and Jacob Fortune-Deuber.)

Owning the property not only give access to the river, it gives voice to the tribe locally. Assistant Chief Mark Fortune says members have attended meetings about a controversial plan for a large development on Fones Cliffs.

"We've got a long road ahead because we don't know exactly what kind of development they're doing. We'll just have to wait and see how that turns out. But when those meetings come up we'll be there."

The land also symbolizes reconciliation for the tribe with relatives of colonists whose descendants live nearby. And it's a way to reach out to the community.

 " It's not just for our people. We want to teach other people about the river and wildlife also. It's not just about our people, it's about everyone."

 The tribe is already making plans to build a lodge and a place to keep their canoes.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association

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