The Monegasque Indian Nation defeats a utility project in the historic capital of Rassawek
The water authority also agreed to facilitate a land transfer to the tribe, the tribe’s lawyers said.
“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.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who supported the Monegasques’ fight, said in a statement that the site was a “one-of-a-kind historical treasure in Virginia” and that he is pleased the parties were able to find a solution.
The intake and pump station project, a Fluvanna and Louisa county initiative, was originally planned for a peninsula of land where the James and Rivanna rivers meet, about 45 miles west of Richmond. . The project was announced in 2017 without consulting the Monegasques, according to one of the tribe’s lawyers, Greg Werkheiser of Cultural Heritage Partners.
At the time of European settlement in the early 1600s, Monegasques numbered about 10,000 people living in the foothills and mountains of what is now Virginia, according to the country’s website. They spoke a different language than the more coastal Powhatans, the tribe that had first contact with the English in the Jamestown settlement, and they avoided contact with Europeans for years.
However, in 1612, when Captain John Smith published a map of his adventures on the James River, it included the locations of five Monegasque villages, including the “main town” of Rassawek, an important trading town.
As white settlers pushed west, the Monacans were driven from their lands and dispersed into areas now occupied by North Carolina, Tennessee, and possibly even Canada.
Beginning in the 1880s, Smithsonian archaeologists found evidence of “extensive cemeteries”, according to Werkheiser. Carbon dating and other investigative methods showed the presence of Monegasques in Rassawek for more than 4,000 years, according to the tribe.
When present-day Monegasques learned of the water authority’s project, it had already gone through the Army Corps of Engineers authorization process, and they first approached partners in the cultural heritage to seek assistance in caring for ancestral artifacts and remains that may be disturbed. Once it became apparent of other sites for the water project were possible, the permit was suspended and the process opened for public comment. More than 12,000 individuals and organizations have spoken out against the project.
In 2020, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Rassawek one of the nation’s most endangered historic sites.
The project will now move a few miles upstream to an alternate route that Branham said the tribe told the water authority.
Although the Native American tribes of Virginia were among the first indigenous peoples to encounter English settlers, their descendants were among the last to receive federal recognition. It’s largely a legacy of Walter Plecker, a white supremacist who for decades headed the Commonwealth’s Vital Statistics Office and pushed the Racial Integrity Act of 1924. The act banned the interracial marriage and forced all births in the state to be classified with one of two designations, “White” or “Colored”.
This “genocide on paper,” as it is sometimes called, effectively erased Native Americans from Virginia’s records.
Branham, who has spent most of his life in Amherst County, Virginia, was moved to tears as he described the challenges his mother faced as she tried to enroll her four children in school. public in the early 1960s. Although the siblings all had the same mother and father, each had a different racial designation, including “mixed Indian,” “Negro,” and “descended,” Branham said. (“Issue” or “Free Issue” was an antiquated designation for descendants of slaves who were freed before the Civil War.)
Once they started going to school, the siblings, who appeared to be white to their classmates, became friends. But a few weeks later, the other children suddenly stopped talking to them. When Branham asked why, a classmate told him that his parents had been taught in church that the Branham children were “problems”.
Decades after Plecker’s death, missing and altered birth certificates have made it harder for descendants of the indigenous people of Virginia to gain federal recognition, even with an abundance of other evidence. Six Virginia tribes, including the Monegasques, finally gained federal recognition in 2018.
About 500 Monacans live in Amherst County, including Branham, and there are about 2,100 total tribe members.
Werkheiser and his co-lawyer and wife, Marion Werkheiser, said they would soon turn to the complicated process of Rassawek’s return, and access, to Monegasques. Although the water authority agreed to transfer its parcel of the site to the Monegasques, Marion Werkheiser said there were several owners of the whole site, who they were entering into conversations about tribal access, stewardship, and eventual ownership.
“It is a sacred site for us. We have no economic development plan,” Branham said. “You can stand there and watch the story.”
He just wanted to be sure that the Monegasques would “never have to fight this fight again”, he said.