- Assessing Native Criticism
The publication of the inaugural issue of Studies in American Indian Literature thirty years ago coincides with the flourishing of what has been called the "Native American Renaissance," a term coined by Kenneth Lincoln to describe the tremendous output of literary endeavors by Native writers beginning with the publication of N. Scott Momaday's House Made of Dawn in 1969. Since its inception SAIL has staked out a space for lively debate and intellectual exchange on what was then considered to be a new and emerging field of study. Following closely behind were the earliest book-length treatments of Native literary criticism: Charles R. Larson's American Indian Fiction in 1978; Allen Velie's Four American Indian Literary Masters in 1982; Andrew Wiget's Critical Essays on Native American Literature in 1985; Paula Gunn Allen's Studies in American Indian Literature: Critical Essays and Course Designs in 1983 and The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Literature in 1986; and in 1989, Arnold Krupat's Voice in the Margin and Gerald Vizenor's Narrative Chance: Postmodern Discourse on Native American Indian Literature. These works, and those that followed them, signaled a paradigm shift in the way we think about American Indian literature.
This special section of the thirtieth anniversary issue began as a panel entitled "Assessing Native Criticism" at the 2005 Modern Language Association conference in Washington, DC. Just as SAIL assumed thirty years ago that there was in fact a field called American Indian literature, this panel posits the existence of a vibrant field that must be critiqued and examined as part of its growth process. The [End Page 173] essays that follow seek to explore current critical debates in American Indian literary studies. They assume the existence of Native literary criticisms, actively engaging with and challenging current critical models. The authors map out diverse positions on the critical terrain, in what might be considered a snapshot of the current debates.
Christopher B. Teuton examines the reading practices of the Cherokee Nation in order to explore the nexus of relationships between Native communities and the literature that springs from them. Franci Washburn argues that no single critical approach to Native literature is possible; rather, "there can, should, and must be theories." Drawing from the theories of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, Thomas Hove and John M. McKinn advocate a three-point relational model for assessing Native literary and cultural criticism, one that takes into consideration the social dynamics of the field. Finally, Ron Carpenter argues for a transcultural context for teaching American Indian literatures. Collectively these essays encourage future conversations that we hope will serve to broaden our discussions of Native literary criticisms.
Stephanie Fitzgerald (Cree) holds a joint appointment in English and Indigenous Nations Studies at the University of Kansas. Her essay on the textual iconography of Native basketry is forthcoming in Early Native Literacies: A Documentary and Critical Anthology. She recently coedited a special issue on American Indian autobiography for the American Indian Culture and Research Journal.