Rassawek SAVED


After Four Year Battle, Water Authority Agrees to Alternate Route

Read the Monacan Indian Nation’s March 16, 2022 Press Release  and Backgrounder for Media

Read the Monacan Indian Nation’s Public Statement of Gratitude Upon Successful Resolution of the Fight to Save Rassawek 

PALMYRA, VA – March 16, 2022 – The Monacan Indian Nation today celebrates the selection of an alternative route for the construction of the James River Water Authority (JRWA) water withdrawal and pipeline, which will avoid destroying the Monacan historic capital of Rassawek.

In 2017 JRWA, a joint initiative of Fluvanna and Louisa counties, announced without consulting the Nation that it would develop its project on and thereby destroy a site first documented by Captain John Smith in 1612 as “the chiefest town” in the Monacan territory, which covered half of what is today Virginia. Monacans occupied Rassawek through 200 generations, beginning 4,730 years ago. Beginning in the 1880s, the Smithsonian documented the important archaeological resources and extensive human burials at Rassawek.

The resulting highly contentious four-year battle had drawn national attention and the involvement of tens of thousands of private citizens and organizations representing millions of American Indians and historic preservationists.

In 2020, the Commonwealth disqualified JRWA’s archaeologist and the Nation filed a 1,124-page document with the Army Corps of Engineers asserting multiple legal arguments why the project should not be permitted. Soon after, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Rassawek to its annual list of the country’s 11 Most Endangered historic sites. JRWA took a pause. They consented to hire archaeologists trusted by the Nation, and the resulting investigative report, turned in last week, showed little risk of encountering ancestral remains on “Alternative 1C.” Holding up its end of their proposed bargain, this morning the Nation provided JRWA a letter officially supporting the project at the alternative site. JRWA, which for years insisted that no viable siting alternatives existed, this morning voted unanimously to abandon their plans in favor of building on an alternative route two miles from Rassawek.

Monacan Tribal Chief Kenneth Branham proclaimed, “This fight has been long and hard, but we are filled with joy to see Rassawek preserved and our ancestors respected. We have always said, if we can’t save Rassawek, there’s nowhere in Virginia that’s safe. And indeed, this is a victory not just for the Monacans, but for all Virginians.” The Nation has issued a “Public Statement of Gratitude” thanking a broad and diverse coalition of allies who contributed to the favorable outcome.

National Congress of American Indians President Fawn Sharp observed that the ripples of the victory at Rassawek may travel far beyond the Commonwealth: “Tribes have unique knowledge of and connection to historic and sacred sites like Rassawek, and tribal input must be heard on projects that affect their ancestral land. NCAI is proud to stand with the Monacan people and believes their path to this outcome will become a new model for foiling threats to Native history across the country.”

U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), who has assisted the tribe’s efforts and this summer landed his canoe at Rassawek, which is situated on a peninsula at the confluence of James and Rivanna rivers, stated: “I am glad that all sides were able to find a resolution that spares the ancient burial grounds at Rassawek from development. I know from visiting Rassawek with Chief Branham that this site is a one of a kind Virginia historic treasure.”

The law firm Cultural Heritage Partners, led by Greg Werkheiser and Marion Werkheiser, provided pro bono counsel to the Nation throughout the battle and now serves as general counsel for six of the seven federally recognized tribes in Virginia. Greg observed, “Too frequently developers, private and public, pit communities against one another in a false choice between ‘progress’ and preservation—but look here: these counties will get their water and protect a wealth of cultural heritage.”



Since September 2020, when the National Trust for Historic Preservation, recognized the critical significance of Rassawek and named it to their 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list, the project has been on hold. The James River Water Authority voted to pause permitting to investigate an alternate route, which we are hopeful will be selected as the best option to resolve water issues while preserving the Monacan capital.  https://culturalheritagepartners.com/monacan-indian-nation-saves-historic-capital-at-rassawek-from-destruction/

The Monacan Indian Nation is grateful to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Preservation Virginia for their nominations of Rassawek, and for all the supporters who have expressed concerns about the site or participated in advocacy. But we still need action to #SaveRassawek!

How Can You Help?


  • One page summary about the controversy, and why Rassawek is important (updated September 23, 2020)
  • Timeline to date (updated September 23, 2020)
  • Press release about public opposition to the James River Water Authority permit application (June 8, 2020)
  • Most recent comments submitted about the project by the Nation with appendices (large file, last updated June 7, 2020)
  • Sworn Declaration of Eric Mai, former employee of Circa~ Cultural Resource Management, LLC, detailing archaeological misconduct at Rassawek (October 16, 2019)
  • Letter from Army Corps of Engineers to JRWA stating that the Corps will not authorize the proposed project under a nationwide permit and will now require JRWA to submit a standard individual permit application. (September 10, 2019)
  • Letter from DHR notifying JRWA that their burial permit application must include a revised research and data recovery plan. The plan must be developed by a qualified archaeological consultant and meet with approval from both DHR and the Monacan Indian Nation. (September 6, 2019)
  • This Land Speaks: Virginia Tech online exhibit about the Monacan people and the importance of Rassawek
Below is documentation of the overwhelming public opposition to the plans of the James River Water Authority to destroy Rassawek, the historic capital of the Monacan Indian Nation. JRWA’s proposal to construct a water intake and pump station on top of and through Rassawek, which was documented by Captain John Smith in 1612 and by the Smithsonian and many other in centuries thereafter. This project will disturb Monacan burials and destroy archaeological and cultural heritage of national importance.

Comments from the Monacan Indian Nation

  • Most recent comments submitted in response to the James River Water Authority individual permit application (large file, last updated June 7, 2020)
  • Letter to the JRWA requesting consideration of the Forsyth alternative route
  • Open Letter from Monacan Chief Kenneth Branham to the Fluvanna and Louisa County Boards of Supervisors (March 5, 2020)
  • Analysis of the JRWA’s flawed and selective investigation of itself (January 30, 2020)
  • Letter to the Army Corps of Engineers notifying them of documents that show that JRWA approved misconduct at Rassawek (December 16, 2019)
  • Open Letter to the Louisa and Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors Calling for an Independent Investigation of JRWA and Consultants at Rassawek (December 18, 2019)
  • Media Advisory: Rassawek Revelations Disqualify JRWA from Receiving Federal Permit (Oct. 24, 2019)
  • Letter to the Army Corps of Engineers notifying them anticipatory demolition has taken place in violation of the National Historic Preservation Act, and the Corps will be in violation of federal law if it grants a permit to JRWA. (October 21, 2019)
  • Remarks delivered at August 13, 2019 JRWA public meeting outlining the six mistakes JRWA has made to create this unfortunate situation
  • Remarks delivered at the Army Corps of Engineers consulting party meeting on August 9, 2019 detailing the multiple failures of the Corps’s permitting process to date
  • Comments of the Tribe urging the Army Corps of Engineers to require an individual permit instead of a nationwide permit, and to perform a legally required analysis of alternative locations to put the pump station (June 5, 2019)
  • Comments of the Tribe urging the Department of Historic Resources to deny the permit application from JRWA to dig up Monacan burials (July 23, 2019)

Comments from Tribes and Tribal Organizations

  • Letter from the National Congress of American Indians opposing issuance of the JRWA permit (June 7, 2020).
  • Resolution from the United Southern and Eastern Tribes urging preservation of Rassawek and requesting that the Corps find the project not in the public interest (June 5, 2020).
  • Letter from the Upper Mattaponi Tribe (May 7, 2020).
  • Letter from the Pamunkey Indian Tribe (May 6, 2020).
  • Board Resolution from the Alliance of Colonial Era Tribes affirming the importance of human burial places and asking the federal and state governments to ensure appropriate processes are followed (July 23, 2019).

Comments from Conservation, Preservation, and Religious Organizations

  • Public letter of support signed by more than 3,600 individuals and organizations asking the Corps and DHR to deny permits to this project: We are still accepting signatures on this letter.
  • Letter from the President’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, encouraging the Army Corps to reconsider its approach, and supporting the Monacans’ concerns (August 10, 2020)
  • Letter from the City of Richmond opposing the project (June 5, 2020).
  • Letter from Congressman Donald McEachin requesting an EIS and a public hearing (June 6, 2020).
  • Transcript of the March 11 2020 Meeting of the James River Water Authority, where around 100 people attended and dozens of Fluvanna and Louisa County residents spoke out unanimously against the project.
  • Letter from Preservation Virginia and the Southern Environmental Law Center opposing the project and requesting an EIS and a public hearing (June 4, 2020).
  • Letter from former Director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Kathleen Kilpatrick (June 4, 2020).
  • Letter from the retired Director of the Louisa County Historical Society, Elaine Taylor (May 29, 2020).
  • Letter from the National Trust for Historic Preservation (May 7, 2020).
  • Letter from the Baltimore Yearly Meeting Committee on Indian Affairs (April 10, 2020).
  • Letter from the Southern Environmental Law Center and Preservation Virginia requesting an Environmental Impact Statement for the JRWA project (March 5, 2020).
  • Letter from Southern Environmental Law Center and Preservation Virginia explaining why JRWA must select another site (February 3, 2020)
  • Episcopal Resolution Requesting Reconsideration of Water Intake Site to Avoid Monacan Nation Ancestral Village and Grave Sites and to Provide Improved Protection of Graves of Native American and Enslaved People (November 16, 2019)
  • Letter from the Council of Virginia Archaeologists requesting the Corps review the project under an individual permit, incorporate archaeological peer review, and improve the Treatment Plan (September 9, 2019).
  • Letter from Preservation Virginia expressing concern with the review process for the project and with the planned agreement documents (June 5, 2019).
  • Letter from Preservation Virginia expressing concerns about the project and planned agreement documents (December 21, 2018).
  • Letter from Fluvanna Historical Society opposing the finalization of the planned agreement documents (December 14, 2018).
  • Letter from Virginia Canals & Navigation Society requesting that the Army Corps deny a permit for the JRWA project (December 21, 2018).

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