Go. Native American tribes acquire more land for cultural and environmental preservation

Over the past three years, the Chickahominy Tribe of Charles City County has received nearly $ 7 million in state funding to acquire and preserve tribal lands, thereby preventing development and improving water quality in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The current plan for the $ 3.5 million provided by the General Assembly this year is to purchase more land that is of cultural significance to the tribe, according to Dana adkins, environmental director of the Chickahominy tribe.

An area of ​​over 900 acres probably containing the historical remains of a Chickahominy village called Mamanahunt is currently being considered for acquisition. Other properties along the Chickahominy River in Charles City County, where the tribal villages were located, are of interest to the tribe as well.

“We are trying to create places for our young people to be educated about the environmentally and culturally significant events that impact the tribe,” Adkins said. “We are looking for ways to make the best use of our property for the benefit of our tribal citizens and the community at large, primarily for educational purposes.”

The last major land acquisition for the Chickahominy came through a $ 3.1 million state grant to purchase 105 acres in Charles City County along the James River in 2019. The tribe placed a bondage on the ground with the Virginia Outdoor Foundation which limits development and includes riparian buffers in an effort to restore the health of the habitat and the nearby river.

According to Brett Glymph, executive director of the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, riparian forests, known as riparian buffers, are standard protocol for the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, as well as management practices that maintain the land in its natural forested state. for the benefit of nearby waterways. The Chickahominy Tribe, among other tribes in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, have understood and practiced these techniques for centuries.

“Tribes know that stewardship, water quality, and environmental protection are important things,” said Matthew J. Strickler, Virginia Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources. “It’s a key value for them, and they’re closer to the earth than anyone else. It’s not just about leading by example, it’s the real work they do.

LAND FOR WATER

Riparian habitat, known as riparian lands, plays an important role in determining what enters the waterways that feed Chesapeake Bay.

“Forests and wetlands capture precipitation, trap polluted runoff, and stabilize soils that might otherwise flow into waterways,” said Roy Seneca, spokesperson for the United States Environmental Protection Agency. the environment. “Riparian forests, also called riparian forests forest buffers, can reduce the amount of nutrient pollution in streams, sometimes up to 30 to 90 percent.

Land conservation is seen as a “tool in the toolbox” to improve the overall health of the bay, according to Seneca.

“Some of the most effective practices for reducing nitrogen in the Chesapeake from unregulated, non-point sources are riparian forests, riparian fencing to exclude livestock from streams, management planning nutrients and planting cover crops, ”Seneca said.

Diffuse sources of pollution, or widespread and unregulated pollution, constitute a cause of water quality problems in the watershed.

“When you think about the water column and the quality of the water, you really have to ask yourself where this water comes from,” said Joel dunn, president and CEO of the Chesapeake Conservancy, a nonprofit organization involved in many important land acquisitions for indigenous tribes across the watershed. “This water flows from the land, into the rivers and into the bay.”

The Chesapeake Bay watershed stretches from Cooperstown, New York, to Norfolk, Virginia. “It’s a little hard for people who live 100 miles upstream to make that mental connection that when they flush the toilet they end up making their way to Chesapeake Bay,” Dunn said.

The Chesapeake Bay Watershed. (US Department of Agriculture)

Revealing the source of pollution entering the bay, usually in the form of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment, is “not that simple,” said Allen Davis, Associate Chairman of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Maryland.

“For the most part, this is primarily agriculture, as most of the watershed is used for agriculture,” Davis said. “The city is small but growing; septic tanks are small; wastewater treatment plants are important, but they are shrinking the most because they are probably the easiest to manage.

CULTURAL LINK WITH NATURE

The tribes of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed understand that all elements of nature are inextricably linked, including land and water.

“Everything is related to us in all forms of life, so we must respect and honor all of these forms,” said Chief G. Anne Richardson of the Rappahannock Tribe located in King and Queen County. “We got our food from the river, our medicine from the river and our knowledge from the river. “

Through a coordinated effort between the Rappahannock Tribe, the Conservation Fund, the Chesapeake Conservancy and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, 252 acres of land was purchased and successfully preserved two years ago in a culturally and environmentally significant location along the Rappahannock River called Fones Cliffs.

There are still 1,000 acres to the north and 1,000 acres to the south that the Rappahannock Tribe and the Chesapeake Conservancy would like to see protected.

“Conservation is important to everyone, or it should be,” said Richardson. “This not only affects the quality of the water, but also the quality of life of all the life forms that are part of us. We want to live in such a way that all forms of life thrive.

Fishermen use a jetty at Lawrence Lewis Jr. Park adjoining the newly acquired Chickahominy lands, July 31, 2021. (Evan Visconti / For the Virginia Mercury)

The tribes of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed have a historical, cultural and spiritual connection to the rivers and streams that eventually flow into Chesapeake Bay. “If our Earth and our waters are sick, then we are sick,” said Richardson.

Richardson is leading an initiative called “Back to the river”To teach young tribesmen the traditions and culture of the Rappahannock River. She views land development as the greatest threat to the Rappahannock River and the tribe’s way of life. “Because our river hasn’t seen much development, it’s cleaner than most. We want it to stay that way. “

The broader restoration efforts of Chesapeake Bay focus on total maximum daily loads and complex best management practices for farms and wastewater treatment plants, but the effort to preserve large tracts of land on the along the tributaries of the bay also has a significant impact.

“We don’t create any more land, and whatever we can conserve is good for the planet and it’s good for us, for the animals, the flora and the fauna,” said Glymph. “Land conservation is essential in helping us heal our planet, fight climate change and improve the quality of our land and water. “

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to correct the title of Allen Davis.


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