After centuries of displacement, the Nansemond Indian Nation is rebuilding connections to their ancestral waterway. Members of the tribe in southeastern Virginia are raising oysters for restoration work and volunteering to build living shorelines in support of the Chesapeake Oyster Alliance goal of adding 10 billion oysters to the Bay.
In fact, in July of 2023, the Nansemond Indian Nation transplanted 7,000 oysters onto a protected reef in Suffolk together with CBF and the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance. Nansemond Tribal citizens grew the oysters along the shores of their tribal lands at Mattanock Town as part of CBF's Oyster Gardening Program. Over the past year, the oysters have grown into big clusters ready to thrive on a reef.
To learn more about the Nansemond people's cultural revitalization through river stewardship, visit their story map Indigenous Life On The Nansemond River.
[Keith Anderson, Nansemond Indian Nation Assistant Chief] The river itself, when I think of it, it brings sentiments of home and ancestors and a rich history of our people that are still thriving today.
[Text overlay] The Nansemond River in southeastern Virginia is the home of the Nansemond people.
[Nikki Bass, Nansemond Tribal Council Member] So the Nansemond River is our ancestral life force. It was the center of our villages. It was our means of survival, sustenance, transportation.
[Kalen Anderson, Nansemond Tribal Member] We lived, we breathed, we were surrounded by water. So it was just in our nature to be water people.
[Text overlay] In the 1600s, colonists displaced the Nansemond people from the river. In recent decades, the Nansemond have been reconnecting with the waterway...after federal and state tribal recognition and the return of riverfront land at Mattanock Town.
[Nikki Bass] We named this site Mattanock Town because it's very close to one of our ancestral settlements that had the same name. And this place is very important to us because it's our only access to the river. We have timeless cultural connections to oysters and oyster reefs. It's always been something that we wanted to reconnect to. We just didn't know how to start. Our project with Chesapeake Bay Foundation has really helped us to learn where we are and establish a baseline to see, you know, what has happened here at this site, what do we need to do to restore it, and how can we build partnerships. Starting with the oyster garden has been great. We have our oyster cages out on the creek and we've checked on them. We see other little critters.
[Keith Anderson] We know, as Indigenous people, we are the stewards of this land and we have an obligation to keep its resources pristine, clean, and to honor that as our ancestors did. We partnered with Chesapeake Bay Foundation and with the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance. It was a phenomenal collective experience placing substrates and reef balls and different types of oyster preservation units on the shoreline.
[Text overlay] The Nansemond Indian Nation has joined the Chesapeake Oyster Alliance, working to add 10 billion oysters to the Bay.
[Tanner Council, CBF Chesapeake Oyster Alliance Manager] The Nansemond Indian Nation have been stewards of the Nansemond River and, by extension, oyster populations for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years so we're so very happy to have them as part of this coalition.
[Earl Bass, Nansemond Indian Nation Chief] It's something that we are passionate about, that we want to make sure that we do everything we can to make the river better for our future generations.
[Nikki Bass] When we think about what's happened to the big expansive subtitle oyster reefs and how they've been dredged and deconstructed, it's very similar to what's happened to us as a people so as we work to rebuild the oyster population, we're also working to restore our relationship to the land and to the water, and to be in spaces that our ancestors would have been in as a way to spiritually reconnect ourselves and to stay focused on the things that really matter.