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Management at Pimachiowin Aki: A Three-Pronged Approach

By Guest Observer June 28, 2021

By Hannah Sisk

A large landscape invites any number of management approaches: nature conservation, cultural resource management, community stakeholder engagement—the larger the landscape, the more robust and diverse a heritage practitioner’s toolbox must become. A thoughtful practitioner, though, will learn to employ these tools or approaches concurrently, in relation to each other, to develop an integrated management plan. Pimachiowin Aki, a large landscape in Canada, demonstrates this, as different approaches are deployed in conversation with each other to yield a strong yet flexible system of management. 

Spanning two Canadian provinces and 11,212 square miles, Pimachiowin Aki is clearly conceived as a large-scale entity and was successfully inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2018 (Pimachiowin Aki World Heritage Project, 2016, p. iv). Equally important, the site’s management innovatively stems from a joint understanding of nature and culture—it’s one of only 39 “mixed” natural-cultural landscapes recognized by UNESCO—and via a bottom-up partnership between four Anishinaabe First Nations communities and provincial government representatives (Pimachiowin Aki World Heritage Project, 2016, p. iv). This blog will look at this three-pronged management system—large-scale landscape designation, nature-culture relationships, community-centered partnerships—with the hope that it might inspire more inclusive, sustainable heritage practices in the United States. 

Large-scale landscape designation: This first prong is perhaps the most straightforward on its face. The decision to “scale-up” to a larger landscape yielded an entity that more accurately represents its complex realities, particularly from an ecological stance. Pimachiowin Aki is “a vast area of healthy boreal forest, wetlands, lakes, and free-flowing rivers” (UNESCO, 2021, para. 5) and hosts multiple ecosystems over a boundaried landscape that includes two provincial parks, a conservation reserve, and multiple protected areas stewarded by Anishinaabe First Nations communities (Pimachiowin Aki World Heritage Project, 2016, p. 106-107; Asuncion, 2020, para. 1). The flora and fauna living within these 11,212 square miles are codependent and migratory: “wildfire, nutrient flow, species movements, and predator-prey relationships are key, naturally functioning ecological processes that maintain an impressive mosaic of ecosystems” (UNESCO, 2021, para. 5). Previously, the land was divided under either provincial or First Nations control, with little interaction. Beginning in 2002, discussions between different manager stakeholders slowly moved towards a cooperative, transboundary model (to be discussed below), largely based on the realization that a larger-scaled vision would ultimately “[provide] for ecological resilience, [especially] in the context of a changing climate” (Pimachiowin Aki World Heritage Project, 2016, p. 106-107; Gilmore, 2020, para. 5-9). This scaled-up approach yields a united front and more comprehensive understanding of the systems at play.

Nature-Culture Relationship: Pimachiowin Aki’s integrated approach towards natural and cultural resources provides the second prong. As described above, the landscape is home to a complex ecological system of natural resources. Pimachiowin Aki also includes ancestral lands of Anishinaabe First Nations communities, 6,400 of whom live within the site’s boundaries today (Pimachiowin Aki, 2021a). These community members have been, and continue to be, stewards of the land (to be discussed below), and their cultural heritage is inherently tied to the natural resources. This is reflected in the Anishinaabe cultural tradition of Ji-ganawendamang Gidakiiminaan (“Keeping the Land”), a commitment to “honouring the Creator’s gifts, observing respectful interaction with aki (the land and all its life), and maintaining harmonious relations with other people,” which forms the basis of site management (UNESCO, 2021, para. 2). This is also reflected in the process that led to the site’s formal recognition as a UNESCO “mixed natural-cultural landscape.” Using Criterion III, VI, and IX, the nomination emphasizes the place-based importance of the site’s cultural features, demonstrating that cultural traditions cannot exist without the natural environment, and vice-versa (UNESCO, 2021, para. 3, para. 5). The discussions surrounding this mixed nomination received “worldwide attention,” challenging UNESCO to reconsider the often-overlooked relationship between nature and culture (Pimachiowin Aki, 2020, para. 9; Pew Charitable Trusts, 2014). For heritage practitioners, it’s a reminder to work against the assumed—yet false-—dichotomy between culture and nature. 

Community-Centered Partnerships: This third prong is arguably the most important—the centering and prioritization of Anishinaabe First Nations communities in the management of Pimachiowin Aki. This is accomplished through an innovative series of partnerships and programs that focus on bottom-up, community-driven management. Prior to the formal recognition of Pimachiowin Aki, different areas of the landscape were managed by different stakeholders: First Nations communities worked “individually on their own land management plans” and provincial managers handled the park lands in Manitoba and Ontario (Pimachiowin Aki, 2020, para. 11). As conversations regarding a new, scaled-up approach began, these local management plans were maintained—thus respecting the unique needs of the different stakeholders they represented—but also brought into conversation with each other. A series of compromises and partnerships were developed, yielding the Pimachiowin Aki Corporation, a non-profit charity organization responsible for safeguarding the landscape’s natural and cultural resources through cooperative measures and financial support (Pimachiowin Aki World Heritage Project, 2016, p. 227; Pimachiowin Aki, 2021b). Most notably, the Pimachiowin Aki Corporation’s Board of Directors includes a First Nations members majority (Pimachiowin Aki, 2021, para. 1), representing four Anishinaabe First Nations communities within the site (the remaining two seats are granted to Provincial park representatives). The Board of Directors has created a “consensual, participatory governance structure…and management framework for the property” and  “acts as a coordinating management body and enables the partners to work in an integrated manner” (UNESCO, 2021, para. 18). This focus on coordination and empowerment, rather than top-down directives, allows for management to remain bottom-up and community-driven, which is significant given Pimachiowin Aki’s massive size (Pimachiowin Aki, 2021c, para. 1). Anishinaabe traditional management practices are honored, as keenly seen in the newly-developed Indigenous Guardians program, modeled after similar Indigenous stewardship programs elsewhere in Canada and in Australia (Indigenous Leadership Initiative, n.d., para 1). But, equally significant, provincial law and policy do play a role, too, though decidedly in support of First Nations (UNESCO, 2021, para. 16)—legislative protections enacted in 2009 and 2010 granted important land management agency to First Nations communities (Pimachiowin Aki World Heritage Project, 2016, p. 95). These cooperative partnerships, with a centering towards Indigenous communities, are key to providing a reflexive, effective, and sustainable system of management. 

Pimachiowin Aki promotes a management system that simultaneously scales-up and stays grounded, thereby amplifying community voices. While each management tactic is important on its own, demonstrating bold and thoughtful approaches, the true strength in Pimachiowin Aki’s site management is that these approaches work in conversation with each other. It is this three-pronged framework that has enabled the sustainable, community-driven management practices that work to safeguard both cultural and natural resources at Pimachiowin Aki. For site managers and heritage practitioners, it is a reminder to work cooperatively and creatively, and to prioritize the communities who give life to these living cultural landscapes.


Asuncion, A. (2020, April 1). Pimachiowin Aki: The Protection of Intact Forest Landscapes as an Effective Policy Tool. Ontario Planners.

Gilmore, D. (2019, March 20). Pimachiowin Aki: A Journey. Ontario Parks Blog.

Indigenous Leadership Initiative (n.d.) Indigenous Guardians.

Pew Charitable Trusts (2014, June 17). Canadian Boreal Forest Site Sparks UNESCO Rules Review. 

Pimachiowin Aki (2020). We’ve Answered Your Questions: World Heritage Sites Explained.

Pimachiowin Aki (2021). About Us: Board of Directors.  

Pimachiowin Aki (2021a). About Us: Communities.  

Pimachiowin Aki (2021b). About Us: Pimachiowin Aki Corporation.

Pimachiowin Aki (2021c). Keeping the Land: Our Work.

Pimachiowin Aki World Heritage Project (2016). Nomination for Inscription on the World Heritage List.  

UNESCO (2021). Pimachiowin Aki.

Hannah Sisk is a collections management professional based in the Philadelphia area. She is currently Assistant Registrar at The Frick Collection (NYC), previously having held positions at the American Philosophical Society Museum (Philadelphia) and the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston). She received her M.A. in Cultural Heritage Management from Johns Hopkins University and her B.A. in archaeology from Brown University, where she co-founded a student group for the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology. Hannah is interested in “big-picture” questions related to collections management practices, notably how collections procedures and policies can become more bottom-up, inclusive, and sustainable.


Rappahannock Retracing their Past.

By Guest Observer August 29, 2016

By Joe McCauley

Historic marker Courtesy: St. Mary's College of Maryland

Historic marker
Courtesy: St. Mary’s College of Maryland

In 1940, Thomas Wolfe wrote You Can’t Go Home Again, a novel about finding one’s identity in the modern world.  In popular American speech, the phrase has come to mean it is impossible to relive the optimistic expectations of youth once you have experienced the world as an adult.  Perhaps so, but through the Indigenous Cultural Landscapes initiative, the Chesapeake Conservancy and the National Park Service intend to turn that concept around for the American Indian tribes of the Chesapeake region, and demonstrate that in some respects, you can go home again.

The Indigenous Cultural Landscapes initiative (or ICL in short) is an attempt to identify and map geographic areas where Chesapeake tribes once lived, where they worked the land, fished and hunted, gathered materials for pottery, weaponry and utensils, and where they fought for survival against the English incursion.  ICLs are defined as trail-related resources for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail in its Comprehensive Management Plan. From the Park Service and Chesapeake Conservancy perspective, identifying and mapping these places help us achieve one of the Trail’s three goals, that being to “to share knowledge about the American Indian societies and cultures of the 17th century.”  Equally important, this initiative provides an opportunity for Chesapeake American Indian tribes to, in a sense, go home again.  This collaboration among the tribes, the Conservancy, and the Park Service is also critical to achieving another of the goals of the Captain Smith Chesapeake Trail: “to interpret the natural history of the Bay (both historic and contemporary).”

Chief Anne Richardson and the Author Courtesy: St. Mary's College of Maryland

Chief Anne Richardson and the Author
Courtesy: St. Mary’s College of Maryland

The ICL concepts and opportunities came together beautifully on a warm, blustery April day when six members of the Rappahannock Tribe, including Chief Anne Richardson, visited several sites along the Rappahannock River and two tidal tributaries.  Tribal members were joined by archeologists from St. Mary’s College of Maryland, along with staff from the National Park Service and Chesapeake Conservancy.  Stops included Sabine Hall, which may have been the site of the Rappahannock town of Toppahanock; Cobham Farm, where the Rappahannock dug clay for pottery even into the 1960s; and Totuskey Creek, which formed one boundary of the land grant to Moore Fauntleroy that resulted in one of many moves the Rappahannock were forced to make by the English.

The day was filled with excitement and discovery.  Most tribal members had never before visited these sites with the exception of Cobham Farm, where Chief Anne remembered digging clay for pottery when she was a teenager.  Vestiges of the Packett family campground that once thrived there along the Rappahannock River still remain and brought back memories from decades past.  At Menokin, the ancestral home of Francis Lightfoot Lee, the group toured the visitor center where artifacts from the original 18th century building are on display.  Of particular note for the Rappahannock was an engraved “X” in a mantelpiece that resembled one they had seen on a 17th century treaty.  Was it the same mark used as a signature by the tribal leader who signed the treaty?

This is just one of many questions that surfaced throughout the day, and during another similar visit in early May.  In fact, there are now more questions in search of answers than before the ICL Rappahannock initiative was begun.  Does an Essex County farm hold remnants of palisade walls erected by the Rappahannock?  If so, it would be the first such palisade documented along the river.  Where are the exact locations of the many Indian towns mapped by Captain John Smith along the Rappahannock River?  To date, none have been accurately mapped or documented.

Fones Cliff Beverly Marsh Courtesy: St. Mary's College of Maryland

Fones Cliff Beverly Marsh
Courtesy: St. Mary’s College of Maryland

During the second of the two trips, the group visited Beverly Marsh, a special place whose history is unquestioned.  On August 18, 1608, as Smith’s shallop approached the narrowest part of the river at what is now called Fones Cliff, Rappahannock bowmen let loose a volley of arrows directed toward the English.  Smith had erected shields along the gunwales of his boat, so the arrows did no harm.  The event is exquisitely captured in Smith’s writings and there is little doubt as to the location, with the high white cliffs being a prominent feature in the story.  What remains in doubt is the future of this ecological and historic treasure as Richmond County has approved two development proposals that would place hundreds of homes and townhouses atop Fones Cliff.  While Beverly Marsh is permanently protected through the generosity of the Wellford family, Fones Cliff is highly threatened.

From Smith’s journals and maps, it is believed that at least one, and perhaps more, Rappahannock towns existed on the Fones Cliff properties, but no archeological work as been performed.  As Chief Anne noted during the May visit to Beverly Marsh, ” I was amazed to find the places we frequented on the South side of the River were directly across from historic towns on the North side of the River.”  But exactly where those towns were remains unknown.

The entire Fones Cliff ecosystem is within the boundary of the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge and efforts are ongoing to bring the properties into public ownership, or at a minimum, protect them via conservation easements.  If they were to come into public ownership, it would provide opportunities for tribal members, young and old, to visit their ancestral lands.  It would provide equal opportunities for visitors from around the Nation and the world to experience what it must have been like to be there in 1608, since the landscape is remarkably intact with few intrusions of 21st century habitation.

Documentation is key to the ICL project and any similar archeological endeavor.  Investigators, in this case from St. Mary’s College, NPS, and the Rappahannock tribe, are attempting to piece together what is known from historic records with oral history to get as close to the “truth” as possible.  The St. Mary’s team is using geographic information systems to map the best corn growing soils, high-resource marshes, fresh water sources, and routes of travel among other key ingredients for pre-17th century survival. Those layers are augmented by reports of known archeological sites maintained by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. What sets the ICL initiative apart is the added layer provided by the Rappahannock themselves, adding their oral and written history to the mix, which will provide the most comprehensive mapping project of its kind for indigenous occupation along the river.

When completed, the Rappahannock ICL report will have multiple uses.  Areas mapped as having a high probability of being sites of occupation and utilization by the Rappahannock Tribe can provide another layer of information for those who wish to conserve their lands.  Adding this information to known priority areas for fish and wildlife for example, will help focus efforts to work with willing landowners who are interested in both habitat and cultural resource conservation.  Participation in the endeavor is encouraging the tribe in ongoing efforts to revisit their cultural heritage and relearn the traditional skills involved.

The ICL work will also help identify those sites that warrant further investigation by archeologists on public land, and with landowner concurrence, on private lands as well.  There is great public interest in the pre-17th century indigenous use and habitation of the Chesapeake Bay region, as evidenced by well-attended public lectures on the subject.  Public land managers have a duty to understand where important cultural resources exist on lands they manage, so they can both protect these sites and interpret them for the visiting public.  Private landowners too have shown great interest in knowing where on their property these sites exist, so they can avoid accidentally damaging resources that are vital to our understanding of the earliest days of what would become the United States of America.

And then there are the Rappahannock themselves, without whom the ICL project would be just another academic exercise.  Tribal members’ recollections, research, and willingness to become fully engaged in the process are what set the ICL initiative apart from more traditional archeological endeavors.  Where this path will ultimately lead, only time will tell.  But for now it offers hope for the Rappahannock and other Chesapeake tribes that you can go home again.

Joe McCauley retired in 2015 after 32 years with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and now serves as the Chesapeake Fellow for the Chesapeake Conservancy (, Joe can be reached at


Cultural Landscapes: The View from George Wright 2013

By Brenda Barrett March 28, 2013

In one sense, almost every session at the 2013 George Wright Conference  talked about cultural landscapes. If you define the term broadly – as landscapes affected by the interaction of humans and the environment – then sessions on climate change and adaptation, visitor use, tourism, extractive industries, integrating parks and local communities, and any session or keynote address with the word “anthopocene” in its title fall squarely within this rubric.  There were also sessions that directly examined the meaning of cultural landscapes.   For example:

The panel on Indigenous Cultural Landscapes: Developing a more Inclusive Approach to Large Landscape Conservation presented a concept that is being pioneered in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The approach seeks to identify and describe landscapes from the perspective of indigenous people who lived there at the time of Captain John Smith’s explorations of the bay region. Want to know more ? If you were not able to attend, you can watch Deanna Beacham’s thoughtful and concise presentation of this idea on youtube.

Jim Zorn, the Executive Director of the Great Lakes Indian and Wildlife Commission,  talked about the commission’s work to conserve Ojibwe traditional rights to hunt, fish and harvest wild rice and other resources on lands ceded by treaty. The organization represents eleven tribes in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan and provides natural resource management expertise and conservation enforcement. Their work has expanded to cultural programing including language conservation programs.  And who knew that the NOAA was doing such innovative programs with tribes in Marine Protected Areas.  The agency’s Cultural Heritage Resources Working Group has been making waves in the world of maritime cultural landscapes.

For those who are into trend spotting, new ideas in cultural landscapes include the interest of traditional conservation agencies in expanding their mission to include cultural values and in particular to incorporate the indigenous viewpoint into conservation work.  We can all learn from this.

The 2013 George Wright (GW) conference was challenged by the congressional budget sequester that knocked almost all federal employees off the agenda. However, the conference presenters found inventive ways to work around this obstacle by webcasting the plenary sessions, skyping on the Imperiled History Report, presenting speakers through youtube clips, and such low tech solutions as having a partner present your remarks.  Those in attendance at the conference were the young (many on GW Student Travel Scholarships), the old (mostly committed retirees), the academic (presenting their  research) and thanks again to GW Society attendees with Native Participant Travel Grants.  So mix in some international visitors including representatives of the UN, IUCN, and our neighbors to the north, and you had a conference with a very positive dynamic. But the hard part is that so many up and coming government professionals missed the chance to take away new ideas and this is a loss for the field of cultural landscapes and so much more.


National Trust for Historic Preservation: A Tale of Two Sessions

By Brenda Barrett November 30, 2012

Scene from Glacier National Park, part of the larger Crown of the Continent landscape.

Large landscapes. Living Landscapes. Cultural Landscapes – what a difference a few words can make! Earlier this month, a pair of well-received sessions at the National Trust for Historic Preservation Annual Meeting in Spokane, Washington highlighted the challenges associated with defining these terms. The two back-to-back panels, which both tackled landscape scale issues, drew very different responses from the audience – a testament to how exciting, yet also contested, these ideas remain.

The first session Indigenous Cultural Landscapes: New Ideas on Place presented work underway in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed that has redefined landscapes from the perspectives and lifestyles of pre-contact Native peoples. The goal of this expanded definition is to better interpret the place of American Indians on the land. It also draws on Indigenous knowledge systems to strengthen conservation practice by adding a cultural perspective to areas already significant for their ecological resources and water protecting capacity.

Deanna Beacham, an American Indian Program Manager with the National Park Service, started the panel’s conversation on how the concept of the Indigenous Cultural Landscape has been used to enrich the Chesapeake Bay region’s understanding of place. Lisa Hayes from Accokeek Foundation followed next, illustrating how the concept is being applied to better understand the homeland of the Piscataway in Maryland. Stephanie Toothman, Associate Director with the National Park Service, discussed the need to examine how the NPS uses the idea of cultural landscapes, especially in contexts where knowledge systems and values may or may not overlap.

For the next 45 minutes, attendees discussed and debated the meaning of this broader approach to cultural landscapes. The dialogue was quite rich and an overwhelming majority of attendees reported back on evaluations that this helped make the session one of their favorites at the conference. At the time and in the post session write-ups, a number of folks asked for more specifics on how this idea would impact the resources they care about and the work they do on the ground. Yet, others pushed back against this idea, noting that law and/or regulation is often used as a way to limit or contain the possibilities of new approaches. Hands flew in the air. What would mean it for the National Register criteria, as we know it today? How could it possibly work with the section 106 process? Who speaks for Indigenous peoples? Does it have any applicability in the western United States? Many were inspired as one person said, it presented “ the idea of a cultural landscape not as a static thing… it is a continuing discourse between the past, present
 and potential for the future.”

The afternoon session on Conservation on a Grand Scale: The Large Landscape Approach had a very different dynamic – maybe it was the after lunch time slot or the room which was a bit cavernous. The second panel featured Mark Preiss, the manager of Eby’s Landing National Preserve, and Shawn Johnson, who coordinates the work of the Crown of the Continent Roundtable. They presented complex work that crosses jurisdictional boundaries and integrates private and public lands to achieve a partnerships approach to land and water conservation and natural resource management. Both panelists talked from a large landscape perspective and emphasized the importance of integrating culture and nature values.

However, despite the scale of these large landscape efforts and the inclusion of cultural resources as key components, no challenging questions were raised about how these resources were identified or defined. The largely positive post session reviews expressed no uncertainty about how it would impact the field of historic preservation. What if the session was titled Cultural Landscape Conservation on a Grand Scale? Would the conversation have taken a different turn? Perhaps the emphasis on an ecosystem approach, stretching across multiple states, proved a bit unfamiliar to National Trust conference attendees, whose work tends to focus on smaller areas or sites. Perhaps not, but whatever the reason, the two sessions produced markedly different responses among participants.

For a fuller description of the session and speakers see link to the National Trust Conference Program in Spokane WA for Friday Nov 1, 2012



Fall Meetings and Networking

By Brenda Barrett July 25, 2012

This Fall Meet Up on Large Landscapes

Summer is the time to plan for  the upcoming conference season. Until recently there have been limited opportunities for folks on the ground to learn and share their best ideas on the large landscapes movement. However, this fall has produced a good crop of chances to get together. On the east coast, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is hosting the Conservation Landscape Summit: Naturally Connecting People and Places October 29-30, 2012 in Harrisburg PA.  This gathering will include elected officials, local organizations, and business owners who are working in seven conservation landscapes across the commonwealth to use natural assets for conservation and economic revitalization efforts.

Meanwhile for those on the west coast, the National Trust for Historic Preservation is holdings its annual conference for the first time in Spokane, Washington. On Friday November 1, 2012, there will be two sessions of interest. The Indigenous Cultural Landscapes: New Ideas on Place will look at defining larger landscapes from the perspectives and lifestyles of pre-Colonial Native peoples. A second session, Conservation on a Grand Scale: Large Landscape Approach, will provide an opportunity for the cultural community to shape the new landscape movement and develop working partnerships with environmental organizations. The speakers at both sessions are leaders in this new field and welcome your questions and participation.

This is all part of a trend to adapt the large landscape movement to encompass community sustainability and cultural heritage.  Oh, one more reminder from the Living Landscape Observer. If you are interested in cultural landscapes at a global scale consider attending the October 12-13 Cultural Landscapes Challenges in the 21st Century, Rutgers University, NJ . Celebrating the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention and the 10th anniversary of the Declaration on Cultural Landscapes, the conference will bring together scholars and professionals from around the world.



The Lower Susquehanna: A Landscape of Loss?

By Brenda Barrett July 20, 2012


Pot from the Washington Boro site. Photo Courtesy State Musem of Pennsylvania.

Pot from the Washington Boro site. Photo Courtesy State Musem of Pennsylvania.

How are significant large landscapes eroded away? It usually does not happen overnight – the landscape character and heritage are lost acre by acre. But of some these losses are just more painful than others. Consider a recent example in the Lower Susquehanna Valley.

Although not yet well known, the Lower Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania is one of the great iconic landscapes in America.  Those who care about its cultural and natural resource values have recognized the region as the Susquehanna Gateway State Heritage Area and as the Lower Susquehanna Conservation Landscape. It was also recently designated as part of the connector trail for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.

Today much of the Lower Susquehanna River landscape looks rural and scenic with scattered small towns, farms and summer cabins.  However, it is also a landscape of power with three large hydroelectric dams harnessing the river flow. Much of the land along the river and many of the river islands, approximately 13,000 acres, is owned by utility companies.

This valley also has a nationally important story to tell. Before European contact, it was one of the most densely populated Indian settlements on the eastern seaboard. Over 3,000 people are estimated to have lived in just one the region’s  large palisaded town known as the Washington Boro site.  The natural environment supported intensive farming, hunting and fishing.  Today a blue and gold state historical marker remembers the Washington Boro Archaeological Sites noting that  This area contains one of the highest concentrations of archaeological sites in Pennsylvania. The sites range from small camps to large villages and cover 11,000 years of Native American culture. 

Until recently land use change came slowly to this region. Then on July 1, 2012 an article appeared in the Lancaster paper that Safe Harbor Power Company was “quietly” selling land containing some of the most significant archeological resources in the country. They were selling what were essentially the front yards of the great Indian settlement of Washington Boro and selling its burial grounds.  Caught off guard, conservation groups have scrambled to respond.

It does not have to be like this.  The significance of the archaeological resources was well known and the power companies have been working with partners to save open land in the region. Hopefully, this story will have a positive ending and all parties will become more aware of the need to save this rich heritage.











Presquile National Wildlife Refuge: An Indigenous Cultural Landscape

By Deanna Beacham April 1, 2012

Presquile National Wildlife RefugePresquile National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is located on a 1329-acre island in the James River south of Richmond, Virginia. Part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Eastern Virginia Rivers National Wildlife Refuge, it was established in 1953 to protect habitat for wintering waterfowl and other migratory birds, and at the present time is open to the public only on a very limited basis. What is now Presquile (formerly “Presque Isle”, or almost an island) was once a peninsula inside one of the James River oxbows. It became an island when a channel was cut through the peninsula in 1933 to make navigation easier for large boats. The island includes open meadow that was formerly farmed, extensive wetlands, brushy areas, and mixed forest

However, this place is more than just a wildlife refuge: it is also serves as an example of a new concept of place known as an Indigenous Cultural Landscape. Developed as part of the planning for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, the concept is intended to represent large landscapes from the perspective of American Indian nations at the time of their first contact with Europeans. These landscapes comprise the cultural and natural resources that would have supported the historic lifestyles and settlement patterns of an Indian group in their totality. The concept attempts to demonstrate that American Indian places were not confined to the sites of houses, towns, or settlements, and that the American Indian view of one’s homeland is holistic rather than compartmentalized into the discrete site elements typically used in our language today such as “hunting grounds”, “villages”, or “sacred sites”.

The island of Presquile, now protected as a wildlife refuge, was at the time of English Contact a peninsula within the aboriginal territory of the Appamattuck Indians. John Smith mapped an unnamed town near the base of the peninsula. Cultural resource surveys of the refuge have identified a large area considered likely to contain evidence of Late Woodland American Indian occupation and prehistoric archeological sites ranging from the Late Archaic through Late Woodland. The concept of the Indigenous Cultural Landscape looks at the natural resources still present on the land: the good agricultural soil, sources of fresh water, 
transportation routes on the river, accessible landing places, 
and the resources still present in the marshes, brushy areas and primary or mixed deciduous forest

These resources along with the documented American Indian presence provide outstanding interpretive opportunities to look at place in a new way. Presquile NWR is currently in the process of updating their comprehensive conservation plan, with the possibility of more public access in the future. An environmental education center for youth, managed by the James River Association, is also being developed on the island. The refuge is one of those increasingly rare places where the landscape of the past merges with the present. The hope is that telling this story will expand our sense of stewardship of place and our understanding of the diverse people that share this space.

Deanna Beacham (Weapemeoc) is the American Indian Specialist in the Virginia governor’s office and serves as an advisor, consultant, and speaker on mid-Atlantic American Indian history and contemporary concerns. She is an Occasional Observer for this web site.