Dec. 7, 2022 — “The most important thing you can learn about Native people is that they are still here,” said Larry Spotted Crow Mann, author and citizen of the Nipmuc Tribe of Massachusetts, at an all-school meeting in Memorial Chapel. “We are still here, a living presence.”
Mann visited NMH on Nov. 30 as part of the school’s yearlong learning theme of Citizenship and Service. A traditional storyteller, tribal musician, and cultural educator, Mann focuses his work on the intersection of cultural and environmental awareness, spirituality, and youth sobriety in the indigenous community. He is co-director of the Ohketeau Cultural Center in Ashfield, Massachusetts. Ohketeau, which means a “place to grow,” offers interdisciplinary education through cultural workshops, dance, music, and art. Mann is a review committee member for the Native American Poets Project at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology at Harvard University and has served as a board member of the Nipmuc Cultural Preservation.
In 2021, he was the first recipient of the Indigenous Peoples Award from the NAACP in Massachusetts for his lifetime commitment to social justice and sharing the culture and music of his tribe.
Mann greeted NMH students in the Nipmuc language, sang and drummed the traditional Nipmuc healing song, and taught students a song known as a longhouse song before sharing about the experience and history of Native people.
“I greet you using the words of peace in the Nipmuc language, the words of reciprocity and the words of exchanging our breath,” he said. “In our language, the exchange of breath means exchange of spirit, the life force. We are sharing our spirit every time we open our mouths and share words.”
At one time, the Nipmuc Tribe lived on 2,000 square miles of land in what is now southern New England, but by the 1800s, disease, genocide, war, and forced removal by European colonists whittled Nipmuc land to just five acres, Mann said. Before 1491, in all of North America, there were 18 to 20 million Indigenious people, he said. By the 1900s, that number dwindled to 250,000. Today’s Native American population is 6.8 million, he said.
The trauma experienced as a result of this destruction is often passed down through generations and compounded by the characterization or romanticization of Native culture, Mann said.
“I didn’t think highly of myself as a young person,” he said. “I only valued myself by my proximity to whiteness. It should not be our job to explain our humanity to others. I’d like to point out how exhausting it is.”
Mann said he turned to art — writing, poetry, and music — when he was struggling as a youth. “I wondered, ‘How do I use my artistic talent to shift consciousness?’” he said.
To date, he has published three books: The Mourning Road to Thanksgiving, Tales from the Whispering Basket, and Drumming & Dreaming, a collection of Nipmuc legends that is included in a statewide curriculum for Massachusetts teachers and students.
Mann encouraged students to “lean into the curiosity of our own friction, allow our minds to be challenged by new information, and allow our hearts to be open and surpass some of the things that we were told for a very long time.
“As I stand here before you — all these young bright minds — you are the future,” he said. “Racism, prejudice, bigotry — that’s not going to end on its own. That takes action.”
Hazel Handy ’23 introduced Mann in the chapel and later said that she appreciated how his words were “an invitation to also lead our lives with the understanding that hopefulness enacts change. When multiple people understand the power of believing in community-centered goals, it's a recipe for healing while also moving forward.”