In honor of Native American Heritage Month, Karenne Wood, director of VFH’s Virginia Indian Program, gave a series of talks examining and celebrating the deep history of American Indians in what is now Virginia. Among the organizations visited were the Virginia Air & Space Center in Hampton, Alexandria Public Library, Louisa County Historical Society, and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
Wood, a member of the Monacan Indian Nation, offered her perspective on the history of Native American’s representation in museums, government policies, and the popular media. In a lecture titled “Prisoners of History: Pocahontas and American Indian Women in Cultural Context,” Wood discussed Pocahontas’ role as a pivotal figure and one of the only American Indian women known within American culture. Wood debunked many myths about Pocahontas and revealed the true story of her life and her role in American and Virginian history.
“Most Americans are unaware that Pocahontas was kidnapped by the English while still a teenager. She may have married John Rolfe because it was her best option under the circumstances,” said Wood.
She also examined the ways in which recent archaeological findings have shifted our understanding of the existence and history of American Indians in Virginia and the United States.
“In many historical narratives, Virginia Indians appeared on the scene in 1607 and disappeared by 1700,” said Wood. “Nobody is talking about how we have been here for at least 18,000 years and we are still here today.”
One goal of these talks was to educate people about the culture of Native Americans, especially the deep-rooted notions of respect and connection.
“Native culture really has some lessons to teach us, especially right now, about talking to each other through dialogue and connecting with other forms of life,” said Wood.
Wood’s lecture series marks a continued effort to not only tell the true story of Native Americans, but also help redress centuries of historical omission, exclusion, and misrepresentation.
“Most history is the story of a land and its people,” Wood said. “My story is about people who have been in a place for millennia. It’s about people who love their land, knew it, and interacted with its creatures and plants in a way that was not about extracting resources.”