“River Talk” discusses water quality and history preservation

Published 8:00 am Thursday, May 2, 2024

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The Nansemond River Preservation Alliance and Nansemond Indian Nation joined together last Tuesday to discuss their focus on water, history and Mattanock Town preservation efforts.

During the River Talk community event on Tuesday, April 23, at the Crittenden Eclipse and Hobson Ruritan Club, attendees came out to learn more about the current status of the Nansemond River with the State of the Nansemond River report and ways to help keep the river waters clean. Also discussed was the Nansemond Indian Nation’s history and the importance of keeping it alive, along with various preservation initiatives in the works.

Quality of the Nansemond River 

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The report notes that the majority of the Nansemond River is classified as “impaired,” with the report’s map key showing condemned shellfish areas primarily within the upper area of the River. Presenting the report to attendees, Nansemond River Preservation Alliance President and CEO Beth Cross says she and NRPA are “pretty sad” about the river’s results but notes that the community can “do something about it.”

“Our goal is to engage every citizen, not just the city and state that sees this report, but to engage every citizen in Suffolk in what we can do to be a waterfront community that is thriving with our actual water…,” Cross said.

In detailing responses to the issue, Cross says the residents should focus on advocating with city and state leadership to highlight the river’s decline, educating members of the community, and empowering the next generation to take action to preserve the waters.

“We want excited, passionate students and kids to be outside getting their hands dirty and understanding the things that keep them alive,” she said. “Because this ecological balance that they’re a part of, some of them don’t even know that it is not going to be able to hold us if we don’t do something about it.”

Nansemond Indian Nation History Preservation

Nansemond Indian Nation Tribal Council Vice Chair and Historian Nikki Bass discussed indigenous knowledge and sovereignty and how both tie into the Nansemond River’s preservation. Bass detailed that indigenous knowledge has interaction and experience that spans across 1000s of years of observation and relationship with the environment. On sovereignty, she describes it as the governing body’s power to “exercise legal and physical control over people, land, and resources found within a defined territory.”

“Indigenous knowledge is not only held by adults, it’s shared by youth, by adults, by elders and it’s passed through culture and storage,” Bass said. “Indigenous knowledge is unique to where it’s developed. So the indigenous knowledge of the Nansemond River and the Chesapeake Bay is going to be different than the indigenous knowledge of the Plains tribes or indigenous people on the west coast.”

From hunting, fishing, and foraging as survival skills to proposing to a woman with a handmade shell necklace, Bass educated attendees on the cultural practices of the Nansemond Indian Tribe and how colonization displaced many indigenous people from their ancestral territories, threatening their indigenous knowledge and the ability to protect their relatives. 

Along with event-sharing stickers featuring Weyhohomo, Amapetough, Weyingopo and Tirchtough, Nansemond Chiefs who worked to defend the river, Bass detailed that Elizabeth Bass passed in 1676, the year before the Treaty of Middle Plantation and Articles of Peace. Bass noted that despite her passing before the turning point, her memory still lives on and has “thousands” of descendants.

“These are real people and I just want to share these stories so that you can know them and feel like you have a sense of connection to the history here,” Bass said.

Environmental challenges and preservation projects

Nansemond Indian Nation Environmental Program Manager Cameron Bruce also detailed environmental challenges the tribe faces, such as stormwater runoff and pollution, solid waste management, and invasive plant species. Bruce also talked about projects currently underway, such as oyster gardening and shell recycling, planting oysters, and a shell recycling program. Bruce also discussed the recent tree planting at Mattanock Town.

“We had 45 general participants total spanning state agencies, nonprofits, community members, arborists, you name it, tribal citizens of course too, but we had a lot of participation,” Bruce said. “That area had previously been treated for invasive privet. It was about three to four acres that was actually completely mulch, and then we replanted in that area, but the whole treated acreage was 18 acres.”

Following the meeting, Bass and Bruce commented on the night’s discussion, noting the attendees’ engagement. Bass said that the attendees’ questions stuck with her, as they focused on ancestral remains and ancestral site protections.

“The questions were thoughtful and demonstrated that the community is thinking about what they can do to help us stay connected and really care for the land, water and even artifacts, and things that may be more sensitive,” Bass said.

For Bruce, questions on land spacing were the most interesting for him.

“Because I think there is still such a lack of awareness for tribal presence, not just here, but everywhere,” Bruce said. “So when you see people from the outside community wondering where there’s a tribal presence in terms of land ownership or where people live, I think that’s a good way to get the education out there.”

On what’s next for the Nansemond Indian Nation, both Bass and Bruce say that in June, the tribe will be hosting the Maritime Craft School as well as partnering with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for Clean the Bay Day in Mattanock Town. Likewise, they are also gearing up for the 36th annual Nansemond Indian Powwow celebration in August.

To read the full State of the Nansemond River report and ways to help, go to cleanmyrivers.com. For more information on the Nansemond Indian Nation, go to nansemond.gov.