Oral Histories

The oral narratives from Chief Anne Richardson, John Tippett, and James E. Pitts Sr. collectively tell a complex story about the indigenous, environmental, and historical importance of the Rappahannock River.

In her interview, Chief Anne Richardson, tribe leader of the Rappahannock people contextualized the river from the perspective of the descendent of the original stewards of the land. She does not describe the Rappahannock with a traditional ecological outlook. She says “Rappahannock means the people who live where the water rises and falls.” The Rappahannock people had ambiguous boundaries along the river, going to Tappahannah or as far as the James River. While these people are indigenous to this land and this river, since the Treaty of 1677, Rappahannock people have been forced out of their spaces, forcing them to even go underground in the silent year. Cheif Anne Richarson also highlighted how spiritually important the river was to her people, the river gave the tribe, food, travel, healing, and medicine. However, she stated that the river does not belong to them; it belongs to the creator, so the action of the colonization in the genesis of America’s existence and the usage of fracking in the present day is not just an environmental problem. It does not properly steward the land the way the creator made it. The acts of grants for education to the people of the Rappahannock and the Indigenous Cultural Landscape Project are to not only aid indigenous people in returning to the Rappahannock; it will help them be back the river that the creator used to help them thrive.

John Tippett discussed the Rappahannock through the lens of a former environmental non-profit director. He explained his passion for the water since he was young, and how that aspiration translated into an education at Alleghany College, and Duke University. He showed that his journey to the non-profit sector went through the for-profit sector and the private sector. When he saw that his passions were not being necessarily fulfilled, he thought that he could add action to the non-profit sector that he knew “what they were against.” Working a Friends of the Rappahannock taught him about how to fundraise and cultivate a vision. He saw the hazards within the Embrey Bridge. Through a fishing trip with Mark Werners, Friends of the Rappahannock was about to cultivate a relationship with the Federal government and was given federal money and the aid of the Corps of Engineers to destroy the dam. The breaking of the sediments allowed aquatic habitats to reconnect.

James Pitts Sr. illustrated the first-hand experience of being a non-indigenous person utilizing the river. He was born in the 1920s and lived on a farm with his parent and an older brother and sister. Through telling a personal story about his life as a young person going to watch the steamboats at Colonial Beach, Pitts illustrates how fruitful bodies of water were in the past and how much they have changed now. As a child he was able to fish for shad and herring, but as he got older and environmental issues were propagated, the fish were no longer fishable in his region. Through experiencing so much of the river in his lifetime and through working by the naval bases, he grew with the river and saw its many phases. The river did not just evolve with him but Pitts thought that he’d “have gone hungry if it weren’t for the river.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *