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Land is at the heart of sovereignty and self-determination.

Virginia tribes may have been the earliest to experience First Contact, however, they were among the last to be recognized by the federal government after decades of work by tribal volunteers. Virginia’s 1924 Racial Integrity Act prevented tribes from using official vital records statistics to prove lineage because of Walter Plecker’s efforts to erase native race from all records - essentially paper genocide that spawned impacts still felt to this day.

Nevertheless, tribal citizens would work tirelessly to reunite their people and exercise their sovereignty and self-determination. In 2016, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe would be officially recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a federally-recognized tribal nation. Working together, six additional tribal nations would become federally-recognized when the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act was signed in 2018. They would gather in late 2018 to collectively mark this milestone at Werowocomoco in a formal ceremony with the United States government (Photo credit: Chesapeake Conservancy).

A celebration at Werowococmoco in 2018. Photo credit: Chesapeake Conservancy.

Federal recognition brought new opportunities and challenges to these tribal nations. All began the process of setting up their own governments, constitutions, and broader community programs to support their tribal citizens. This at a time when they were especially vulnerable from the worldwide COVID pandemic and its economic impacts. They also began building robust tribal environmental programs and capacity and engaging in partnership discussions with federal, state agencies, and nonprofit partners on opportunities to return their homelands.

Forming a unique inter-tribal council.



In 2022, the leadership of all the seven federally-recognized tribes of Virginia met over dinner after the Second Sovereign Nations of Virginia Annual Conference and agreed to form the Indigenous Conservation Council (ICC) of the Chesapeake Bay. The ICC serves as an organized body through which tribal nations from across the region can share and create resources to return to and reconnect with their ancestral landscapes. Importantly, the ICC's work is centered on supporting and reinforcing the sovereignty of these tribal nations on the path by building the capacity of all tribal nations to create an Indigenous, interconnected landscape. The ICC is formed on the basis that returning land to Indigenous Peoples who can practice tribal values and strong relationships with the land is one of the best ways to restore and heal landscapes and communities.

In 2023, the Board of the ICC approved by-laws, elected officers, and passed a fundraising policy endorsing Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) and transparency in its practices. Our bylaws support the eventual development of an affiliate membership of state-recognized tribes and a focus on the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The Board has decided to focus its early efforts on the Commonwealth of Virginia and grow at the speed of trust. The Board and their tribal environmental directors meet four times per year to learn from other Indigenous-led initiatives, guide the strategy of the ICC, and ensure its capacity building programs fully support sovereignty.

In July 2023, the ICC filed paperwork with the IRS to become an independent 501-c-3 organization with the pro bono support of Cultural Heritage Partners. The Rappahannock Tribe graciously agreed to serve as a fiscal agent for planning grants until the ICC could be formally established as an independent entity. Also in 2023, the Board approved the hire of Melissa Ann Ehrenreich as its first executive director.

In April 2024, the ICC celebrated two milestones when it officially became a tax-exempt 501-c-3 organization and passed its first strategic plan.

Board Members include:

  • Chief G. Anne Richardson, Chair (Rappahannock Tribe)

  • Chief W. Frank Adams, Vice Chair (Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe)

  • Second Assistant Chief Reggie Stewart, Secretary (Chickahominy Indian Tribe)

  • Assistant Chief David Hennaman, Treasurer (Nansemond Indian Nation)

  • Adrian Compton, Tribal Administrator (Monacan Indian Nation)

  • Vacant and awaiting appointment (Chickahominy Indian Tribe-Eastern Division Tribe)

  • Chief Robert Gray (Pamunkey Indian Tribe)


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