Turkey. Dressing. Pumpkin Pie. For Larry Spotted Crow Mann, Thanksgiving is about more than parades and early holiday shopping. The Nipmuc author ponders the poignant intersections between genocide and suppertime during this harvest holiday in his new book.
Q) Congratulations on your new book! Such a striking title! What does your book's title mean to you? What do you hope it conveys to your readers?
A) Thank you. The title means to me that we as Native American / First Nation People have a compelling and powerful story to share that goes far beyond a litany of hardship and loss. That where we have come from, and where we are today are full of intricacies and nuance that may come as a surprise to many: A journey and story that continues to grow and evolve. For the readers, I wanted a title that would stir the cauldron of literature in a dynamic way. The title opens the door to one of the biggest complexities and contradictions in American history.
Q) Most of us don't equate “Mourning” and “Thanksgiving.” How do these concepts connect in your book?
A) For millions of Americans, primarily Native Americans, that is a lingering question that poses itself every last Thursday of November. The dichotomy arises when we consider that the founding of this Day of Giving Thanks for some, was inextricably linked to an era of taking away from others. Not only stripped of life and land; but even the Voice of Native people would be controlled, contained and filtered through a toxic narrative to bring forth devastating effects— even to this day. The book thoroughly exposes the history but also highlights the endless possibilities of the human spirit when we let our hearts love and forgive.
Q) Gratitude is a core value for most of our Native spirituality. We're thankful people and that shows in our prayers, our ceremonies, our generosity and our humility. What role does true Thanksgiving play in your book? In your life?
A) Thank you for that question because that’s an important one. This novel is about a Native American man, haunted by his childhood, and furious about the treatment of his people since the landing of Mayflower. He sets off on an unforgettable quest to heal himself and Indian people everywhere. He decides he can accomplish both by putting an End to America’s beloved Thanksgiving—Forever. A heart wrenching, daring and sometimes humorous journey that will reveal the healing spirit within all of humankind.
This novel is sometimes hard hitting, and will also reveal the inner struggles of Native American people; such as issues around identity, tradition and the complexity of how Indians and tribes define themselves. But it doesn’t stop there. You will see and feel the tragedy, learn the history but you will also experience the healing power of us all: what forgiveness and love can do for the soul. A journey that all of humankind can relate to. And there, we see a True- Thanksgiving, that transcends culture, race and tradition. And for my life I am truly grateful for the gifts of friendship and guidance that have been shared with me throughout my life.
This story is a reflection of my over 20 years of teaching, sharing and working with so many wonderful people and Elders. One of the greatest gifts I could have is to speak for my ancestors. And though this novel their Voice, tears and Joy are once again heard across Turtle Island.
Q) Thanksgiving is a powerful time of year in the USA. From school plays to parade floats, there's a distinct story of the First Thanksgiving that forms the foundation of the whole holiday. How does the mainstream version of Thanksgiving differ from the Native perspective?
A) The holiday itself is a great example of how a myth can turn into an accepted fact. When we earnestly research one of the main themes: Indians and Pilgrims eating harmoniously around a table, we quickly see the tale was more of wishful imagination than anything that really happened. The book expands on that and more.
Moreover, the Native perspective should also be open and understood by all of mainstream society. We are also fellow Americans and this story goes to the roots of not only the founding of America but also the history. Many are already calling the Mourning Road to Thanksgiving one of the best books they have ever read. ( Thank you!!) They are also saying it should be required reading for every high school student across the country. And that was actually part of my goal: to get this book in the hands of students grade 8 to college level, and beyond.
The novel is as entertaining as it is educational. This narrative can have a positive impact to change the misconceptions, and open the door to a new dialogue of teaching and understanding of Native Peoples that has been sorely lacking in our school system.
Q) Is there a place for Thanksgiving in the lives of Native People? In your own life?
A) Absolutely, on both counts. I often said the idea behind giving thanks; essentially –Giving is a universal principle that can heal people of all walks of life. In my community we have a Harvest Moon ceremony which is all about giving thanks and sharing. I’ve been to many tribal communities throughout the US and Canada and giving thanks is a core value. Although the novel highlights the contradiction of the history and tradition of two cultures, in no way does it exclude either from the other. The reader goes away with new information and ideas but never told how to, or if they should celebrate.
That’s one of the beauties of Native culture. There are hundreds of tribal nations throughout the United States and Canada. They vary widely in culture and ceremony. They have had their differences throughout the years but one thing you notice right away is that they never warred over “beliefs, religion.” Nobody was offended by what you “believed.” That was your personal journey. As I believe this story will be.
Q) How did writing this book transform your heart? What did you discover about yourself as a writer? As a Native writer?
A) There have been times in history where a musician or an artist has produced something absolutely brilliant. And when asked how he did it they didn’t have an answer. Usually they say something like it just came to them. I mention that because when I started writing this story four years ago I found myself laughing and crying right along with the story.
As strange as it sounds, the story just began to happen as if something else took over. And my role, like the rest of the people in the story had a part. Mine was to write what they were showing me. It was alive, in the moment and stimulated all my senses. It transformed my heart to an ineffable feeling of joy because I began to realize the power and potential of what was happening. There was some serious medicine going on. It gave me a heightened sense of responsibility as a Native writer because I was given the privilege to speak for those who have long been gone while sharing the Voice of Native people today. I think the biggest thing I discovered about myself is the extraordinary love I have for the art of story.
Q) What would you like readers to absorb from your book? What do you hope we'll do with what we learn from you?
A) I would like to see people come away with a new understanding of the history and cultural context of the plight of Native American people. I see that happening already. People have told me the book made the cry and it made them laugh. And that’s what I wanted to do was to stimulate the mosaic of emotion and passion in the readers. You will see within the journey of this tale that Native American humour can appear at unexpected places and how it serves as a buffer between the pain and struggles of everyday life.
On another note, I really want to reach the young readers. The youth is where it starts, and to have this book in the classroom gives them the forum where in-depth discussion can take place. This technological generation of teens are highly bright and intuitive. They should not be reading outdated materials and notions on Indians when more and more resources are now becoming available. So I hope this book would be used as a teaching guide to educate but also bring Native and Non Native people closer to understanding each other, which ultimately brings people together.
Q) What do you want us to know about your Native tribe? What are some of your favorite tribal traditions?
A) Nipmuc means People of the Fresh Water in Algonquian. Our Homeland encompasses all of Central Massachusetts, Northern Connecticut – Rhode Island and the southern tip of New Hampshire. We are some of the people who dealt with the Europeans since the 1600s and defended our lands during the King Phillips War of 1675. As with many tribal communities, our people have gone through a multitude of hardships and struggles since first contact.
We continue to move forward and honor who we are. We are still here. Our tribal people are some of the most giving and sharing people you will ever meet. At our powwow and other ceremonies we make sure to share with not only other Natives but non natives as well. We believe this ancient medicine is to be shared. Because if we don’t share then we are not doing our duty as the caretakers of Mother Earth. And despite impediments from the federal government concerning land rights, sovereignty and other issues; myself along with other tribal members formed the Nipmuc Cultural Preservation Trust. It was created to help promote the cultural, spiritual and social needs of all Nipmuc People. Currently we are trying to build the first ever Nipmuc Community Center and are in the process of raising funds for that.
As far as traditions, the drum is very important to me. Its sacred medicine that has the power to bring our people together. But I also must add our traditional stories. Whether its the story of Crow, Rabbit, Strawberry or Stone Giants: These legends intimately bind the tribe to the land, animals and plants around us. They are not abstract ideas. They are indeed tools for living, sharing and respecting things around you.
Q) Are powwows and dance part of your life? How does practicing in your culture and traditions shape your identity?
A) I love to dance, drum and tell the old stories. It’s all healing medicine. It means everything to me. The culture, tradition and Native way of life is why I do what I do. That is why my life is connected spiritually, culturally and professionally. Some people have a job and then at 5pm or so they go home and don’t have to think about. For me, this is not only my life, but the lives of family and friends that are all around. What goes on the in the world socially, politically and economically affects Native communities in ways the world still doesn’t understand. We have to be involved, aware and active in the process. This is why I write.
Our people have an important story to tell that is still being weaved. When we think about Massachusetts, for example— the name of my state is named after the tribal people near Boston. Chicopee, Connecticut, Agawam to name a few, are all Algonquin words from the language of my ancestors. Most people just pass them by and see them only as names of lakes, towns and rivers. But I see them as eponymous reminders of what use to be, what was lost. The more people learn about this land the more my ancestors live.
I believe this book will help this new generation to look at race, and culture much differently than we did in the past. And overall, the message is that we are all not as different as we think we are. None of us as humans had a choice as to the race we were born into or the social situation. But we do have a choice in how we treat each other.
Q) We loved visiting with you today! Thank you so much!
A)Thank you, it’s been an honor and privilege to share with Powwows.com today.