November 27, 2014 marks the 45th anniversary of the first organized National Day of Mourning protests in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It was there in 1970 that Wamsutta Frank James shared his personal thoughts on the American holiday and Native peoples, beginning with the words, “I speak to you as a man, a Wampanoag man.”
Forty-five years later, Larry Spotted Crow Mann, a Nipmuc author, poet, musician, and environmental activist from Webster, Massachusetts, speaks to us in a similar voice in his new novel The Mourning Road to Thanksgiving. Influenced by the Plymouth protests, Mann’s narrative tackles the way history and tradition permeate personal lives and reminds us that days of mourning are not just annual events.
Larry Spotted Crow Mann’s groundbreaking novel, The Mourning Road to Thanksgiving, challenges the notion of a holiday deeply ingrained in American tradition and folklore both from a historical standpoint as well as cultural. The story is told through the experiences of a Native American Nipmuc man who fights to change the future, while coming to terms with his own troubled past and the acceptance of his family. For Neempau [the protagonist], the ultimate remedy is to challenge and end one of America’s favorite holidays: Thanksgiving.
His heart-wrenching, daring, and sometimes humorous journey not only exposes the innermost core of Native American struggles, but also the complexities of the notion of race, tradition, and identity. This brilliant story transcends cultural differences and inspires new thinking while taking readers beyond the boundaries of the past.
It’s these very complicated issues that contemporary Native families struggle with for a holiday that most take for granted as a time for feasting and football. While this is a novel that highlights the contradiction of the history and tradition of two cultures, in no way does it exclude either from the well-told tale that Larry spins about one family’s journey to come to terms with Thanksgiving. Neither preachy nor dry, The Mourning Road to Thanksgiving is an engaging read—sometimes deadly serious, sometimes poignant, sometimes humorous, always relevant. – Word Branch Publishing
Peter d’Errico’s review of The Mourning Road to Thanksgiving says that the book “deserves a special place among the resources available to teachers and students trying to learn what makes Thanksgiving a contested holiday. [Mann's] novel touches all the atrocities that a sensitive and critical character cannot forget as he comes face-to-face with yet another Thanksgiving, struggles through his anger and memories.”
For more information on The Mourning Road and the author, click here (video), here, and here. For more information about the National Day of Mourning at Plymouth, click here for a news article and here for a video of last year's protest. For the study guide, Harvest Ceremony: Beyond the Thanksgiving Myth, by the National Museum of the American Indian, click here.
Photograph of the 1970 National Day of Mourning courtesy of ManyHoops.com.