The Department of the Interior (DOI) announced on Friday the return of more than 400 acres of land to an indigenous tribe in Virginia.
About 465 acres at Fones Cliffs on the eastern side of the Rappahannock River was returned to the Rappahannock Tribe, which regards the sacred site as its ancestral homeland, according to a press release from the DOI.
The Rappahannock Tribe will own and maintain the land, but the site, within the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge, will be available to the public. The tribe plans to create trails and a replica 16th-century village at the site to educate visitors.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) also holds a permanent conservation easement on the land, which was donated to them by environmental organization Chesapeake Conservancy.
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary, said she was “honored to join the Rappahannock Tribe in co-stewardship of this portion of their ancestral homeland.”
“This historic reacquisition underscores how Tribes, private landowners, and other stakeholders all play a central role in this Administration’s work to ensure our conservation efforts are locally led and support communities’ health and well-being,” Haaland said in a statement.
The Biden administration has been working to support indigenous people and tribes through an array of methods, including building out physical infrastructure and financially supporting tribal nations, according to a White House fact sheet released in November.
The Rappahannock Tribe inhabited at least three villages at the Fones Cliffs site, which is where the tribe first came into contact with — and defended their land against — English explorer John Smith in 1608.
The tribe was subsequently removed from the land by force during the colonization of America, according to the Chesapeake Conservancy.
Rappahannock Tribe Chief Anne Richardson applauded the reacquisition of the sacred site on Friday.
“We have worked for many years to restore this sacred place to the Tribe. With eagles being prayer messengers, this area where they gather has always been a place of natural, cultural and spiritual importance,” she said in a statement, according to Chesapeake Conservancy.