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With Gift of Land Near Fones Cliffs, Rappahannock Tribe Expands Return to the River Initiative

Rappahannock Chief Anne Richardson thanks U.S. Senator John Warner as his daughter Virginia who donated land to the tribe.
Rappahannock Chief Anne Richardson thanks U.S. Senator John Warner as his daughter Virginia who donated land to the tribe. Located near the Rappahannock River, the tribe will use the property to expand programming that passes on ancestral knowledge to youth. (Photo: Inigo Howlett)

The Rappahannock Tribe joined environmental advocates in a recent ceremony to celebrate a donation of land on their original territory. The gift will be used to expand a program that preserves ancestral knowledge and traditions. From Warsaw, 88.9 WCVE’s Inigo Walker Howlett has more for Virginia Currents.

Learn More: See video of the event and learn about the report “Defining the Rappahannock Indigenous Cultural Landscape.” Thanks to the Chesapeake Conservancy for providing audio of the ceremony.


As the Rappahannock River moves between the marshes, bluffs, and wetlands of Essex and Richmond counties, it moves through the lands of the Rappahannock Indians. Anne Richardson is Chief of the Rappahannock.

Anne Richardson: Today we have been given an amazing opportunity. To come together in unity, bringing those descendants with the first colonists that came, to reconcile with the native peoples of the land. To ensure that the environment here, on the Rappahannock River, will continue to be blessed.

Richardson addressed Mark and Virginia Warner who donated the acre of land, not far from Fones Cliffs - the site of three former Indian villages.

Richardson: I just would like to say thank you to you, that God placed you in leadership over  our country for so many years, and you stood as a steward of the lands, and the bay and of the rivers, to preserve and protect that which God has given us, and understood the importance of it. Thank you for your donation to return our people to this land.”

Today, after several resettlements,  most members of the Rappahannock tribe live in Caroline, Essex, and King and Queen counties. The donation of this land now gives them direct access to the river that shares their name.

Richardson: Oh it’s beautiful here. Everything is so lush and green. It’s kind of untouched. And untouched is why the eagles have come here to nest. And we are here to stand to protect the eagles and their nesting ground, and the lush beauty of this place, and the river.

(Music: Drumming)

At the end of the ceremony, a group of youth gathered around a single drum,. They sang “There’s a river of life that’s flowing” to mark their renewed presence along the Rappahannock.

Music: Drumming, singing)

The Rappahannock will use the land for their Return to the River program, an initiative to preserve tribal knowledge and build leadership skills. Mark Fortune is assistant chief.

Mark Fortune: What we plan to do, trying to get the young kids involved in some things concerning the river, plant life and wildlife.

Fortune says they’ll share the ways their ancestors lived off the river’s bounty.

Fortune: I love fishing. Trapping and fishing. we make these traps out of straw, like,  and that’s what we’re teaching our kids how the indigenous people used to do that. It’s a fish trap kinda like a tunnel, when he goes in it he can’t get back out when you pull him out of that, he’s alive. That’s how they used to catch a lot of fish, so we try to teach that to our young people.

Fones Cliffs soar more than 100 feet over the Rappahannock. The area is largely undeveloped and is a popular nesting spot for bald eagles. Joe McCaulay is a fellow with the Chesapeake Conservancy.

Joe McCaulay: If you go down to the end of the road, you’ll be right there at the cliffs. You can look back up and see the cliffs really well, and I’m sure you’ll see some bald eagles using the cliffs as well.

The Conservancy and other environmental advocates see this exchange of land as one step in continuing the preservation of the area. Groups have long opposed plans for a nearly 1000 acre resort and golf course. Richmond County approved the development in 2015, but construction hasn’t started. For Virginia Currents, I’m Inigo Howlett, WCVE News.