Setting Monacan history straight
spoke at a public lecture on Monacan culture and life in the
Dome Room Oct. 23. The speakers were (right, top to bottom):
Jeff Hantman of U.Va., and Monacan leaders Karenne Wood, Daniel
Red Elk Gear and tribal Chief Kenneth Branham.
By Fariss Samarrai
Some sat with their eyes
closed. Others watched transfixed. But all listened intently as
Daniel Red Elk Gear, a leader of the Monacan Indian Nation, sang
an ancient honor song to a full house of guests during the Oct.
23 “Engaging the Mind” program in the Dome Room of
His song was followed by an ancient Monacan peace prayer —
first in Tutelo, the language of the Monacans, then in English
— by Karenne Wood, a Monacan leader and a poet.
For more than two hours the Monacan members, along with their
tribal Chief Kenneth Branham, and U.Va. anthropologist Jeff Hantman,
discussed Monacan culture and life, and the ways that the Monacan
nation and U.Va. are working together to accurately and fully
tell the history of the Monacan people.
The song and prayer that began the program were given and received
in an appropriate location — Jefferson’s University
occupies ancient Monacan land. All of central and western Virginia,
from present-day Richmond to the Blue Ridge Mountains, was Monacan
country until the westward expansion of European colonists in
the early 17th century. In ensuing years, the Monacans and their
culture were suppressed.
“We need to write Monacan history into its rightful place
in the history of this region,” Hantman said prior to the
program. During the discussion he said that the Monacan nation
is “part of the ongoing story and history” of Virginia
and the nation.
the Monacan Indian Nation is revitalized, and reconstructing its
history and culture with the help of Hantman and the U.Va. anthropology
There are more than 1,400 members of the tribe, which is recognized
by Virginia but not the federal government. Such recognition would
make members eligible for federal grants, housing, scholarships
and loans, and allow for the repatriation of human remains and
The Monacan Indian Nation is headquartered on ancestral lands
in Amherst County, and its members are seeking to restore their
traditional rituals and language. U.Va. archaeologists and the
Monacan people are excavating and reconstructing ancient Monacan
“We want to express the whole of Monacan culture and to
reconstruct aspects that have been lost,” said Wood, who
is a Monacan historian and repatriation coordinator with the Association
on American Indian Affairs, as well as an award-winning poet.
Hantman has been working with the Monacan people for more than
13 years on several projects, from archaeological surveys and
excavations to developing a traveling exhibit. “I certainly
have learned as much as I have taught,” he said.
Last year the University joined a major telescope consortium in
Arizona located at a site considered sacred to the Apache peoples.
To show respect for native peoples who were opposed to the University’s
desire to join the telescope project, U.Va. agreed to develop
an outreach collaboration in Arizona with the San Carlos Indian
nations and two partner institutions — the University of
Arizona and the University of Minnesota. U.Va. also resolved to
build collaborative relationships with Virginia Indian nations.
The University began conversations with Virginia tribes last spring
and the “Engaging the Mind” panel discussion is one
of several projects that have begun taking shape since last spring.
“One of our goals is to increase awareness of Native American
issues and cultures on Grounds,” said Gene D. Block, vice
president and provost, before the event. “This event helps
us make progress toward that goal. We are deeply grateful to the
leaders of the Monacan Nation for accepting our invitation to
speak with us.” Block presented the Monacan members two
1914 photographs of Monacan children and a school from University
U.Va.’s free public lecture series, “Engaging the
Mind,” now in its third year, is coordinated by U.Va.’s
Office of the Vice President and Provost and sponsored by Virginia
National Bank. This academic outreach program hosts U.Va. faculty
members in communities across the state.
series creates opportunities for the University’s top scholars
and teachers to engage with the citizens of Virginia and to extend
the intellectual life of a nationally ranked research university.