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Sacred land returned to Native tribe in Virginia

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(NEW YORK) -- Tribal land in Virginia will be returned to the Rappahannock Tribe during a celebration hosted by the Department of the Interior Friday.

Secretary Deb Haaland will join the Rappahannock Tribe, Chesapeake Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in honor of the tribe’s historic reacquisition of roughly 465 acres at Fones Cliffs.

The Fones Cliffs lie on the eastern side of the Rappahannock River and are located within the authorized boundary of the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

"Threatened by development for decades, this 'crown jewel' of Virginia has immense significance, not only for the surrounding environment but for American history," the Conservation Fund's website states.

According to the organization, the Fones Cliffs are the site where Captain John Smith and his crew were ambushed by Rappahannock Tribe members.

Smith’s ships continued their journey unharmed, but the fund states that the Fones Cliffs are a reminder of the tribe’s dedication to preserving its land.

The land will remain publicly accessible and will be given to the Rappahannock Tribe with a permanent conservation easement that legally limits the use of the sacred land for conservation efforts.

The news comes just as the Virginia state legislature passed a bill to create the Virginia Black, Indigenous and People of Color Historic Preservation Fund.

The fund would award grant money to recognized tribes and nonprofit organizations to acquire and preserve land that is of cultural or historic significance to Black and Indigenous communities, as well as other communities of color.

The legislation is now awaiting Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin's signature.

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