Trail News

Keeping Sacred Land Sacred: How the Chickahominy Indian Tribe is working to protect water quality along the James River

August 5, 2021

Litter is more than just an eyesore, it has serious environmental and public concerns that impact entire communities. When people litter or illegally dump waste near storm drains, local water sources are threatened. Protecting local water sources is crucial to preserving the natural environment as well as improving community member’s quality of life. To successfully combat litter, spreading awareness and promoting a strong sense of community service is a key component. 

In the state of Virginia, various groups work towards creating litter-free communities. One group hoping to bring awareness to the negative impact of litter on water quality is the Chickahominy Indian Tribe. Federally recognized since 2018, the Tribe is based in Charles City County and is beginning its efforts through quarterly clean-up events.

Dana Adkins, Tribal citizen and Environmental Director since October 2019 coordinated two successful cleanup events over the last year with 20 volunteers each time. The Tribe’s efforts to date have centered on shoreline cleanup of the Tribe’s sacred land on the James River. In addition to coordinating cleanup events, as director Dana is required to share environmental concerns with Tribal citizens, federal and state agencies, and other federally recognized Tribes. 

Volunteer cleaning up along the shoreline; Rebekah Cazares, 2021

Tribal History and Present Day

The name Chickahominy means “coarse ground corn people,” highlighting the Tribe’s deep connection to their land. Prior to English colonists arriving, the tribal population lived in villages along the Chickahominy River. The Chickahominy people were displaced to the Pamunkey Neck area of Virginia after the signing of the treaty of 1646. As the English settlements continued to grow, the Chickahominy were crowded out. This forced them to settle in an area called Chickahominy Ridge a few miles from a 1607 tribal village site.

The Tribe is rich in history, with a deep admiration for the natural environment that continues today. Dana explains the significance of the sacred land to Tribal citizens and says, “My Tribe’s origins date back to this region tens of thousands of years ago. Knowing that we are walking where our ancestors walked thousands of years before the European’s arrival has a very special meaning to us.”

He continues, “Simply put, this is where we have always been, we understand that we are the caretakers of our ancestral lands today for the generations to follow. We don’t take this responsibility lightly, as generations before fought many battles so we could retain our identity and remain a viable part of the community today and into the future.”

Improving both the natural environment as well as building community is a huge part of Dana’s role as Environmental Director. Another aspect being, bringing awareness to the Chickahominy Tribe, their history, and vision for the future.

When asked what he would like the residents and visitors of Charles City County to know about the Chickahominy people today, Dana states, “We would like our neighbors to know that we are close-knit people who still feel a deep connection to our ancestors who were among the first to have contact with Europeans and whose origins are on the banks of our namesake the Chickahominy River. We are also a welcoming community, eager to share our history with those who want to learn more about us.”

Environmental Education

Dana is hopeful that through education and hosting events on Tribal land more people will choose not to litter. However, every time they go to clean up there is more and more litter. The most common types of litter being paper, plastic, and discarded tires. While efforts are successful, he often feels discouraged, stating that “the litter continues to accumulate which underscores the importance of educating the public through the use of anti-litter campaigns and continuing to have regular cleanup activities.”

Dana’s main focus is on environmental education and outreach for Tribal citizens. He is confident that these efforts will translate into increased and improved stewardship of ancestral lands and communities at large. This stewardship benefiting future generations of the Chickahominy Tribe.

Volunteers in front of litter found on sacred Tribal land; Rebekah Cazares, 2021

Looking Forward

Keeping sacred land sacred is and will always be important to the Tribe. Part of keeping this land sacred is working with Tribal citizens and community partners to ensure that litter does not make its way into local water sources. As the Tribe’s first Environmental Director, Dana aims to build a solid foundation that future directors can build on and continue to develop an environmental program that citizens are proud of.

Dana Adkins, Tribal Environmental Director; Rebekah Cazares, 2021

View of the James River from Tribal land; Rebekah Cazares, 2021

When asked how others can support the Tribe’s efforts, Dana says they are “looking forward to our partners embracing and celebrating as we have our new status as sovereign nations as a means to further educate our neighbors about our history and to work with the Chickahominy Tribe in making decisions that have a positive impact on the surrounding community.”