Nottoway Tribe Cleans Ancestral Riverbank

Nottoway Tribe Cleans Ancestral Riverbank

Vincent Schilling

Household debris and tires weren’t the half of it. There was also the matter of the discarded toilet and bathtub.

“It looked like someone just threw away their entire bathroom,” said Allard Allston, husband of Chief Lynette Allston of the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia, after members spent a day cleaning the banks of the river named for their ancestors.

As part of a region-wide collective effort, the Nottoway and several friends of the tribe took part in the 11th annual Blackwater Nottoway Riverkeeper Program’s Clean Rivers Day on April 3.

With the help of several kayaks, canoes, a large truck trailer and quite a few oversized orange plastic trash bags, the Nottoway Tribe's cleanup crew managed to collect and cart away about 30 bags of trash, 20 tires, old doors, household debris and the aforementioned bathtub and toilet, with a skunk hide and microwave oven thrown in. All had been strewn along the banks and in the watershed of the Nottoway River in Southampton County, Virginia.

In total, 29 teams of 223 participants picked up 6,093 pounds of trash and junk, said event organizer Jeff Turner. The tribe's team collected the biggest haul, with 1,040 pounds.

The effort, although a true gesture of honor to the earth, had special meaning to the Nottoway people.

“This specific area of the Nottoway River cleaned by the tribe has been designated as a Virginia Scenic River,” Chief Allston told Indian Country Today Media Network, which was on hand. “In the 1700s and 1800s a ferry crossed the river to connect the two sections of our reservation. There are still visible the remnants of the fishing weirs that were built by our ancestors.”

So more than cleaning up for its own sake, Chief Allston and her fellow tribal members found joy in giving back and providing service to their community, she told Indian Country Today Media Network.

“It is a benefit to everyone in addition to contributing to the betterment of our environment,” she said. “It is our responsibility today to serve as keepers of the land. Even with the number of people, it was so nice to see that we had several generations working together for a common cause.”

Her granddaughter, 10-year-old Ayden Allston, seemed to enjoy the day, pitching in by picking up trash and riding along in a canoe with her uncle, Teague Allston.

“It was fun,” she said. “I picked up a pair of broken glasses and some cans. There were a lot of tires. I found a deer antler.”

Nottoway Councilwoman Beth Roach organized the event.

“Cleaning up the Nottoway River has enormous implications,” she said. “Clean waterways are essential to the wellness of a community, which includes the water, land, air, and all living creatures.”

Moreover, Roach pointed out, “Our people have always lived and thrived by the water. As stewards of the land, we must nurture the rivers and streams.  Removing debris and harmful materials will make space for the elements of nature that are intended to be there. Waterways will flow clearly along their journey to the ocean. We reached our hands into the water to demonstrate this hope and our intent for a better tomorrow.”

After the cleanup, Roach brought out seven baby cypress trees, which she and other tribal members then planted.

“Where a tire once squatted, a tree may now grow,” she said. “Imagine rich soil that nourishes the roots of that tree. The roots will hold the earth tightly together.”

The seven trees “symbolize the impact we will have on the seven generations to follow,” Chief Allson said. “I believe our ancestors from seven generations ago would appreciate these contributions to the land.”

Allston’s son Teague summed up: “The entire day was a blast.”

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