Rep. Rob Wittman, Assistant Chief Dave Hennaman, Chief Keith Anderson, Karen Waldrop, Ken Custalow

In a precedent-setting land transfer, Ducks Unlimited has acquired from a private owner more than 500 acres of ancestral land of the Nansemond Indian Nation and then returned it to the Tribe for protection and stewardship. This historic gift of the forested wetlands of Cross Swamp will enable the Tribe to develop a conservation program, educate tribal youth about their historic ties to the land, and strengthen coastal resilience for future generations. This project received support from Dominion Energy, the Enviva Forest Conservation Fund, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant program, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, and The Mary Morton Parsons Foundation.

After decades of work to achieve federal recognition, which occurred in 2018, and more than 350 years of efforts to reacquire access to their ancestral territory, the Nansemond Indian Nation celebrates this achievement for equity and conservation. “We are filled with joy to have the Cross Swamp property returned to our people. This land was inhabited by our ancestors long before the arrival of English settlers, and now we will again own and manage it as a cultural and natural resource,” said Nansemond Tribal Chief Keith Anderson. “Today marks an important milestone in the restoration of our heritage.”

In addition to ensuring that the wetlands and critical habitat remain protected, the Tribe will steward the property as a vital space for cultural and environmental education. Now that the Tribe owns the property, they will have greater access to federal programs and services to assist with their stewardship goals.

“Cross Swamp consists of forested wetlands that provide critical habitat for a wide variety of birds, wildlife, and plants,” said Emily Purcell, Ducks Unlimited Director of Conservation Programs. “By protecting this historic landscape, this project ensures future generations of the Nansemond Indian Nation have the opportunity to reconnect with the land and enjoy this iconic area in the Atlantic Flyway. Additionally, the City of Suffolk will forever benefit from the additional ecosystem services that wetlands provide, such as improved water quality, carbon storage, and flood reduction.”

“Opportunities do not come along often to help Tribal communities reclaim part of their history and traditional Tribal lands. As a member of the Virginia Native American community, I am elated Dominion Energy was able to support Ducks Unlimited in acquiring and returning traditional Tribal lands to the Nansemond Tribe as well as helping preserve these important landscapes for future generations,” said Ken Custalow, Tribal Relations Manager for Dominion Energy.

“As a leading environmental steward across the U.S. Southeast, Enviva seeks to act with respect, humility, and integrity to ensure the best outcomes for forests, people, and the environment. We are proud to support and partner with organizations like Ducks Unlimited to return and conserve ancestral land to the Nansemond Indian Nation,” said Thomas Meth, President of Enviva.

Katherine Sorrell, an attorney with Cultural Heritage Partners, legal counsel to the Tribe and five other federally-recognized tribal nations headquartered in Virginia, observed, “It’s most gratifying when Tribes are not compelled to buy back places once stolen from them. May Ducks Unlimited’s example of acquiring and restoring tribal stewardship of ancestral lands inspire similar efforts throughout the Commonwealth and beyond.”

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About Ducks Unlimited

Ducks Unlimited Inc. is the world's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America's continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 15 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever. For more information on our work, visit

About the Nansemond Indian Nation

The Nansemond Indian Nation is a federally recognized sovereign nation dedicated to cultural preservation, environmental conservation, and the betterment of their citizens as well as of the communities they call home. Those include the cities of Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Virginia Beach, and Isle of Wight County.

Media Contact:
Emily Austin