Karenne Wood Carol Guzy/The Washington Post

Karenne Wood, a graduate student in the College of Arts & Sciences, is working on much more than a Ph.D. in anthropology. She’s working to reverse more than a century of misperceptions about Virginia’s Indian tribes. For her, it’s personal. A Monacan Indian, Wood has been a member of the Monacan Tribal Council, chaired the Virginia Council on Indians and currently serves on the Virginia Indian Advisory Committee for the Jamestown 400th anniversary celebration.

Recently, she edited the Virginia Heritage Trail, which includes information on more than two dozen tribal and interpretive sites; the history of Virginia Indians and each of the eight state-recognized tribes; lists of Virginia Indian resources and suggested readings; and a calendar of powwows, heritage festivals and other events scheduled throughout 2007.

With the surge of interest in Virginia history accompanying Jamestown’s 400th anniversary, Wood hopes that the guidebook will begin to erase misconceptions and create a better understanding of Indian culture, in both historical and present-day contexts.

While her work is increasing public awareness about Virginia Indians (the 40,000 copies of the free guidebook put in welcome centers around the state are nearly gone), Wood originally came to UVA with the hope of resurrecting the now extinct Monacan language. Her interest in language remains keen, but her research has expanded to include a more philosophical examination of what happens when a people’s ancestral language is lost—what she calls the “language ghost.”

“There is an understanding that you feel like you should be able to speak [the language] and be able to communicate, not only with your ancestors in a prayerful and spiritual way, but also with the creator and the geographic formations that surround you in your homeland,” Wood says. “Those were all very important entities historically [for the Monacans], so what do you do when you’ve lost that? And does that affect your own sense of identity … who you are in relation to your people, past and present?”