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Between Washington, DC and the Chesapeake Bay, a nation-to-nation partnership is leading the way in conservation

The Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge was once occupied by the Rappahannock Tribe. And very slowly, some of those 2,000 acres, the sites of ancestral towns, are making their way back to the Tribe.

The latest, ownership of a lodge gifted to the Tribe. The deal was sealed with the signing of a proclamation of a forever partnership between the Tribe and the Refuge. "To co-steward the Tribe and Refuge lands on the Rappahannock River as the eagle flies, not as the boundaries lie," as Chief Anne Richardson read during a signing ceremony last week.

It’s not only about getting land back. The Tribe will use the lodge to house programs that complement the Refuge’s Wild in the Woods educational nature walk. "We can create these children who love the land, who love watching the wildlife, who are going to want to fish, who are going to want to boat. And feel the air, smell the air. Look up into a clear sky and see stars," Richardson said. "And be inspired by those things that inspired us when we were kids."

It’s about educating our young people, our tribal members and what it means to keep the land sacred and protect the lands, the rivers," Assistant Chief Mark Fortune explained. "We want to educate the public because they’re the ones that are going to have to help keep it that way too, not just our people."

Such partnerships are happening across the country, says Wendy Weber. northeast regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Right now in Washington State we’re working with the S'Klallam Tribe, how they can manage the oyster fishery in waters that they had traditionally fished."

The Tribe is still readying the lodge for the public.

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