There already had been indications that this important shift was in the wind, but now we know for sure:
The James River Water Authority said last week it will take a closer look at a potential alternative location for a project now slated to be built at the site of Rassawek, a significant historical site for the Monacan Indian Nation — and, indeed, for all Virginians.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently named Rassawek as one of the nation’s — the nation’s — most endangered historic sites.
Rassawek, also known as Point of Fork, sits at the confluence of the Rivanna and James rivers in Fluvanna County.
In pre-Colonial days, it had been the capital of the Monacan Indian Nation, important enough to have been included on Capt. John Smith’s famous 1612 map of Virginia.
The site had been overwhelmed and abandoned as white settlement pushed the Monacans out of their territory. A few years ago, it was chosen as the site for a water pumping station, which is designed to provide water for growth and development in Fluvanna and Louisa counties, particularly Zion Crossroads. The two counties cooperated to found the JRWA to pursue that infrastructure goal. Point of Fork was selected as the most efficient site of several that were considered.
But tribe members say that, to this very day, Rassawek still contains artifacts from their ancestors — including grave sites, which would be disturbed by construction. They had disputed the authority’s and its consultant’s assurances that remains would be taken care of respectfully, citing other cases in which development projects had resulted in broken promises to Native Americans regarding the handling of artifacts. It didn’t help that an archaeologist with a consulting team was found to have misrepresented her degree on her resume, giving critics greater ammunition for arguing that any statements regarding sensitive handling of remains could not be trusted.
And in any case, preservationists said, the boxing and relocation of remains would be a moot point if the site were preserved as an important slice of history.
Meanwhile, the social justice movement has been calling greater attention to inequities in treatment of minorities. Although currently focused primarily on African Americans and their place in history, the social justice premise has implications as well for Native Americans — a point not to be missed in the Rassawek debate.
With calls for the preservation of Rassawek gaining strength, the authority in August had asked the Army Corps of Engineers — a federal agency in charge of part of the pump station permitting process — to delay action so that it could begin considering a possible alternative site.
That alternative course of action was confirmed last week. The other site to be studied is about 2.3 miles upstream of the confluence of the rivers.
Of course, the first step is to have an archaeological study done to determine if there are any artifacts requiring conservation at that site.
The process should take up to four months and cost $155,000.
The JRWA may be understandably disappointed in delay of a long-pursued goal of supporting development by providing a better water source, but the significance of Rassawek in the grander scheme of Virginia and local history only recently has become widely known.
Based on what we know now, there seem to be sound reasons for preserving the site. For the greater good — not just for Fluvanna and Louisa, but for the Monacans and others as well — pursuing an alternative location is justified.
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