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Nansemond Indian Nation regains stewardship of Suffolk wetlands

A person wears ceremonial clothing and face paint
Nansemond Chief Keith Anderson said the tribe plans to build an educational center on land it was recently given in Suffolk. (Photo: Courtesy of Nansemond Indian Nation)

Conservation group Ducks Unlimited returned the 500-acre area of Cross Swamp in Suffolk to the stewardship of the Nansemond Indian Nation in a ceremony last week.

The tribe’s ancestral ties to the wetlands predate English settlement in Virginia.

Chief Keith Anderson said their goals for the land are conservation, preservation and tribal engagement with the community. The tribe plans to build an educational facility on the site to offer educational programs and outdoor activities.

He said the facility will be environmentally friendly, in line with the tribe’s conservation initiatives.

Wetlands like Cross Swamp serve a key purpose in Hampton Roads.

They protect from flooding by absorbing excess water. They are also habitats for thousands of native species, including bald cypress, sweetbay magnolia and many types of waterfowl.

Wetlands are also considered carbon sinks, meaning they capture carbon dioxide from the air and store it underground.

According to the Prince William Conservation Alliance, almost half of Virginia’s wetlands have been drained or filled during the past 200 years. The federal Clean Water Act’s wetlands provision regulated, but did not prohibit, destruction of these areas.

The Nansemond Indian Nation is headquartered in Suffolk but serves much of Hampton Roads. The nation gained federal tribal recognition in 2018. Anderson said they’ve since partnered with local nonprofits to expand conservation efforts in Hampton Roads.

The tribe has a strong relationship with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and has been collaborating with initiatives to clean up the Nansemond River.

The environmental education facility is among the next planned steps.

Read the original story on WHRO's website.