The Mattaponi River snakes through King and Queen County, Virginia. (Image credit: NOAA Chesapeake Bay Program)

VA - Return to the River: The Upper Mattaponi Tribe reclaim their ancestral lands

The Upper Mattaponi Tribe’s historic reclamation of its ancestral lands along the Mattaponi River in Virginia not only preserves the tribe’s heritage but also ignites a visionary environmental stewardship, fostering harmony between tradition, culture, and ecological restoration.

In one of the first re-acquisition projects of its kind at NOAA, 853 acres of ancestral lands along Virginia’s Mattaponi River belong to their original stewards, the Upper Mattaponi Tribe.

The site, a former sand and gravel mine, will now be connected to over 3,000 acres of previously protected land along the Mattaponi River. This linkage expands a conservation corridor protecting fish, wildlife and plants that are culturally significant to the Upper Mattaponi Tribe, such as American shad, beavers and longleaf pine. The re-acquisition effort was supported by a $3 million investment from NOAA’s Coastal Zone Management Habitat Protection and Restoration Grants under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL).

"Restoring our territory enables our citizens to reconnect to their cultural heritage." Frank Adams,  Chief, Upper Mattaponi Tribe

Tribe leads the way on new stewardship approach

The re-acquisition project enables tribal partners to be primary stewards of their native lands. Beyond the immediate conservation benefits of permanent protection of the land from further development, the project will help revitalize the Upper Mattaponi Tribe’s traditions and culture of environmental stewardship. By fostering ecological harmony and applying their traditional knowledge, the Tribe will heal the land in a manner that best suits the landscape and native flora and fauna.

Upper Mattaponi Tribe Chief Frank Adams celebrated the re-acquisition in an August press releaseoffsite link, saying, “Today we begin anew our ancestor’s [sic] thoughtful caretaking of these important lands and waters. Restoring our territory enables our citizens to reconnect to their cultural heritage. I can’t overstate how important it is for our youth to have these ties to the land.”

The Upper Mattaponi Tribe received an additional $1 million to undertake these habitat restoration efforts from NOAA’s Coastal Habitat Restoration and Resilience Grants for Underserved Communities under BIL and the Inflation Reduction Act. These investments will support the Tribe's efforts to restore the integrity of the broader ecosystem along the river.

NOAA: Centering tribes as key conservation partners

Through meetings and written comments, NOAA engaged with federally recognized tribes and Alaska Native organizations on BIL investments. NOAA’s support for the Return to the River project exemplifies NOAA’s commitment to advancing diversity, equity, inclusion and environmental justice.

Learn more about the Upper Mattaponi Tribe’s return to the river, NOAA’s resources for tribes and more about the historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

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