Lauren R. Stevens: Thanksgiving left some open wounds

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WILLIAMSTOWN — Larry Spotted Crow Mann — Native American storyteller, poet and tribal drummer — spoke at Williams College recently about being an Indian in the United States today. Concerning the upcoming holiday of Thanksgiving he said to remember the Pequot Massacre and that his fellow Nipmucs hold a traditional Harvest Moon Ceremony.

He said a Mohican he ran into once asked him how he "got to stay." That is, Mann lives in central Massachusetts, the ancestral home of the Nipmucs, an Algonquian people allied with the Mohicans. Mohican lands included the Hudson Valley and Western Massachusetts. After the Mohawks pushed the Mohicans east from the Hudson River, they became the Stockbridge Indians, along with other tribes.

The Nipmuc hero of Mann's young adult novel, "The Mourning Road to Thanksgiving," sets out to challenge the holiday, as we might with the Pequots in mind. The Massachusetts Bay settlers were attacked by Pequots as they expanded southwest. On May 26, 1637, two hours before dawn, the colonists and Indian allies marched on the Pequot village at Mystic, in what was to become Connecticut, slaughtering all but a handful of its men, women and children. On June 5, they attacked a Pequot village near present-day Stonington. On July 28, a third attack and massacre occurred near present-day Fairfield. Most of the surviving Pequot were sold into slavery, although a handful escaped to join other southern New England tribes.

We might think that ambivalence about Thanksgiving was an Eastern Massachusetts problem, focused on the Puritans accepting aid from the Indians and then mistreating them, if it weren't for what happened to the Mohicans in Western Massachusetts. Not long after they set their council fire in Stockbridge and welcomed the mission, in fact becoming much like their neighbors, whites began conniving to relieve them of their lands. In spite of their service to the British in the French and Indian Wars and then to the colonists in the Revolutionary War, they were driven out, first to New York by 1786, and eventually to a reservation, with Munsee, in Wisconsin. Indians born in the United States didn't receive citizenship until 1924.

Native Americans and supporters will gather at noon on Cole's Hill in Plymouth Nov. 28 to commemorate a National Day of Mourning, as they have since the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrims' landing, 1970. Thanksgiving Day reminds them of the genocide of millions of Native people, the theft of Native lands and a relentless assault on Native culture. Participants in National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today.

Mann's hero, Neempau, thinks the best way to relieve his nightmares of the atrocities is to do away with Thanksgiving. His mourning is for the terrible interactions between whites and Natives. Yet his road is also one of healing. As Mann has pointed out, "We can't choose our race, but we can choose how we treat one another."

Mann notes that Natives have a culture of thankfulness, making frequent tobacco offerings to the natural world for its beneficence. The Nipmuc Harvest Moon Ceremony, in gratitude for the crops, was held Oct. 12. Love between people, he says, is part of the harvest, yet neither in his novel nor in person does Mann tell us exactly what to do. He would prefer we figure that out for ourselves.

At least, that's how it looks from the White Oaks.

A writer and environmentalist, Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor.

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