Conserving and Restoring Indigenous Land
Through collaborations with tribal entities and governments and public agencies, we have completed over 120 transactions and secured 600,000 acres of priority lands and waters across the U.S. to-date that honor Indigenous connections to the land, support Native community goals, and often ensure access for traditional, ceremonial, educational and subsistence activities. And we acknowledge the pace of this work must increase.
RESTORING TRIBAL HOMELANDS
Land acquisition can play an important role in supporting the efforts of tribal governments and communities to regain ownership of their ancestral homelands. Recognizing that Native Americans are the original stewards of our landscape heritage, The Conservation Fund strives to create thoughtful and equitable land stewardship solutions that help meet the needs of the communities with whom we work.
In 2022, we partnered with the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe and the Indian Land Tenure Foundation to complete the largest land-back effort in U.S. and Indian Country history. By returning 28,000 acres to the Band, we helped ensure an enduring and sustainable solution that balances environmental protection with economic and cultural benefits for the Band and its members.
Pictured left: Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe at a special event in June 2022, courtesy of the Bois Forte Band. Pictured right: Minnesota Heritage Forest by Jay Brittain.
We’ve had the honor of working with numerous Tribes across the U.S. to complete similar transactions, including the Nanticoke Indian Tribe of Delaware that, up until recently, only owned one acre of their ancestral land and had to lease parkland for their annual pow-wow. Now, the tribe owns a swath of land adjacent to the Nanticoke Indian Museum (the only Native American museum in Delaware) to host tribal functions and educational programs, and carry out its mission of sustainable Native farming on ancestral lands.
SUPPORTING INDIGENOUS COMMUNITY GOALS
Through strategic facilitation with state and federal agencies, we are also helping tribal and Indigenous partners meet their goals by protecting sites of cultural importance to Native people. One example is the stunning Fones Cliffs site along Virginia’s Rappahannock River — where the Rappahannock Tribe had an encounter with Captain John Smith in 1608. For many years we worked to purchase properties along the cliffside that were previously slated for development. Today, the tribe owns a portion of this land, and we are working to return an additional 1,000 acres in 2023. Other portions have been acquired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and added to the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge honors Rappahannock history and culture, protects critical habitat for wildlife such as bald eagles, and is open for public enjoyment.
Pictured left: Fones Cliffs on the Rappahannock River captured by Virginia Harlow Chandler III. Pictured right: Chief Ann Richardson of the Rappahannock Tribe by Zhivko Illeieff.
We’ve helped natural resource agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service establish and expand many important Native American park sites. Others include the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site in Colorado, Wind Cave National Park in Montana, Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve in Alaska, and Machicomoco State Park in Virginia. Protecting culturally significant Indigenous sites as public land creates opportunities to provide educational resources, supports access for traditional and subsistence uses, honors current and ancestral connections to the land and ensures these sites are not lost for future generations.
Another historic victory occurred in 2022 when the Pedro Bay Corporation, an Alaskan Native Corporation, worked with us to conserve over 44,000 acres of its land in the heart of Bristol Bay. This conservation effort was designed to meet the needs of the Corporation and its Alaska Native shareholders by providing revenue and maintaining subsistence and recreational uses, traditional activities and cultural resources. The conservation easements also protect the most important watersheds for millions of wild salmon and a variety of other wildlife from Pebble Mine.
Keith Jensen, council leader for Pedro Bay, and his daughter Bianca catching salmon in their subsistence net in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Photo by Bri Dwyer.
Learn more about these projects, and others like them, below. And if you would like to support this work, please reach out to Claire Cooney or consider a gift today.