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Rappahannock Chief Anne Richardson sits quietly in a group, taking in pristine marshes and curious bald eagles as their boat plies the Rappahannock River 100 feet below Fones Cliffs, the place of her ancestral towns. 

She’s been here before, seeking help from conservation organizations that support her tribe in buying back their former lands. 

She’s also seeking financial support from Congress for all 574 federally recognized tribes in the U.S. to do the same.

So she invited Sen. Tim Kaine on this boat ride.

“It’s becoming a little bit of a national model for land conservation, heavily driven by tribal priorities,” Kaine said. “Chief Anne is becoming really known as a leader in this.” 

It hasn’t been cheap to buy back land, but Richardson’s local efforts are now a national model for other tribes who want to do the same.

Donors and landowners helped the Rappahannock Tribe get back their ancestral town of Pissacoak. 

Last year, the Conservation Fund paid $8.1 million for nearly 1,000 acres in a bankruptcy auction for the town of Wecuppon. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which owns adjacent properties, is partnering with the tribe and will buy a conservation easement. 

“Conservation agencies in particular had been used to working with NGOs for conservation. But they never thought about Tribes as being partners,” Chief Richardson said. 

“As a federally-recognized Tribe our lands have special protections for wildlife and waters. And so, taking our traditional cultural knowledge and transferring it to U.S. Fish and Wildlife while we co-manage this beautiful place, is a win … for everybody.”

The land handover is slated for later this year.