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Monacans Fight to Protect History and Culture

Cultural Heritage Partners

It’s been more than a decade since Louisa and Fluvanna Counties started planning a water pipeline from the James River to areas they hoped to develop, and Wednesday the local water authority will vote on where to build an essential pumping station.

The four-acre site they selected is historic and sacred to native Americans who are threatening to sue.

When explorer James Smith came through Virginia in the early 1600’s, he discovered a large settlement of native Americans know as the Monacans, and their capital city – on a perch overlooking the James and Rivanna Rivers -- was known as Rassawek.

“All the other communities of Monacan Indians in the region paid tribute to that town, went there for ceremonies, and undoubtedly the town was larger than its contemporary, Jamestown,” says Greg Werkheiser  an attorney representing what remains of the Monacan tribe.

“Virginia was particularly vicious in its treatment of tribes and highly efficient in erasing their history,” he adds.

Now, about 2,400 people who consider themselves Monacans are fighting to protect the land where Rassawek once stood and the graves of their ancestors.  Werkheiser’s law firm has offered free legal assistance – calling on the Army Corps of Engineers to deny a building permit for the water pumping station needed to pipe supplies from the James River to growing communities like Zion Crossroads.

“The tribe is saying there is a specific alternative that has a greater chance of avoiding harming Rassawek,” Werkheiser says.

If the James River Water Authority is unwilling to negotiate and the Corps of Engineers fails to consider the historic and cultural concerns of the Monacans, Werkheiser says they’re prepared to sue.

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Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief
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