Historic Native American capital and burial site in Virginia saved from development
the Monegasque Indian Nation celebrated a major victory last month when it was announced that the tribe’s historic capital and burial site, Rassawek, was no longer at risk of becoming the site of a municipal water pump. After a four-year dispute between the tribe and the James River Water Authority (JRWA), both parties have agreed on an alternative site for the water installation project.
“This fight has been long and difficult, but we are filled with joy to see Rassawek preserved and our ancestors respected,” tribal leader Kenneth Branham said during a virtual press conference. “We’ve always said, if we can’t save Rassawek, there’s no safe place in Virginia. And indeed, it is a victory not only for Monegasques, but for all Virginians.
The site is located along the James River where it meets the Rivanna River in Fluvanna County. The water pipe and pump, intended to carry water to Louisa County, would have destroyed much of the site. The project was announced in 2017 without consulting the Monegasques, according to the tribe’s lawyers at Cultural Heritage Partners.
“Our capital was a contemporary of Jamestown, but much larger and more complex, and it lasted much longer as a community,” Branham said in a press release. “It is a sacred place of great cultural significance to us, and it is a place of historical significance to all Americans.”
In June 2020, public opposition to the plan became clear when 12,000 organizations and individuals spoke out against the project during a public consultation period. In September of the same year, the National Historic Trust declared the ancestral Monegasque capital as one of the “11 most endangered historic places”. The appointment sparked national awareness and support among the Monegasque people.
“The over 5,000 year history of the people of Monaco is written in the soil and landscape of Rassawek, providing a tangible link to ancestors, many of whom did not survive the arrival of the English and are buried there” , said Katherine Malone-France. , Chief Preservation Officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in response to the nomination.
The project is moved a few miles upriver to a location found with the help of the tribe, according to Branham. The new location will cost the JRWA more than they originally anticipated.
“Tribes have a unique knowledge of and connection to historic and sacred sites like Rassawek, and tribal input should be heard on projects that affect their ancestral lands,” wrote the president of the National Congress of American Indians ( NCAI), Fawn Sharp, in a statement. “NCAI is proud to stand with the people of Monaco and believe their path to this outcome will become a new model for thwarting threats to Indigenous history across the country.”
Cover photo: Aerial view of the James River Visitors Center along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Big Island, Virginia. Courtesy of Getty Images.