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Larson: Don't call me 'Junior,' junior

I can imagine the amusement of any number of truly senior American Indian scholars as they read this; but I also know there are others, including myself, who are concerned about the tone and inaccuracies in Weaver, Womack and Warrior's 2006 book ''American Indian Literary Nationalism,'' published by the University of New Mexico Press, 2006.

Early on in ''American Indian Literary Nationalism'' (or ''AILN''), Jace Weaver states, ''Probably only in NAS do you have persons involved as advisors who know little or nothing about the state of the field ... A junior Native scholar [although senior to me in age] recently reviewed my book 'Other Words,' calling it a 'good first step along the Red Road,' although I was publishing in the field before he got his Ph.D.''

As it turns out, the reference is to me. At my age, I almost don't mind being placed in a category defined in part as designed for younger people, but I disagree with what appears to be Weaver's inference that I know little or nothing about the field of Native American Studies, as well as his claim to seniority based on publishing.

For starters, I believe that the title of Elizabeth Cook-Lynn's book of essays, to which the authors refer, is ''Anti-Indianism in Modern America,'' rather than ''Indian Hating.'' With regard to seniority, Weaver's current online vita lists his earliest publication as ''Trickster Among the Wordies'' (Christianity & Crisis, Aug. 17, 1992). My University of Minnesota Law School Juris Doctor is dated May 11, 1985. Although I suppose it is arguable that a J.D. is not synonymous with a Ph.D., I also think if that is the basis of his claim to seniority, it is weak.

Despite the fact he may have appeared on television with Cornel West, additional evidence that Weaver does not have seniority on the basis of publishing can be found on my own vita. Under ''Referred Articles,'' at No. 19, I list James Welch's ''Winter In The Blood,'' The Indian Historian 101 (Winter 1977), which would seem to indicate a 15-year edge in seniority compared to his 1992 publication.

Based on these facts, I am tempted to say something like: ''Don't call me 'Junior,' junior, and you better smile when you use words like 'coruscatingly' and 'prescind,' Pilgrim.''

Weaver also refers to my [concern] ''about the increasing penchant of Native scholars to criticize other Natives.'' In response to his subsequent rhetorical question whether ''we are so fragile in Native American Studies that we can brook no criticism of each other's theories and opinions,'' as I have said before, when criticism crosses certain boundaries, it should not be encouraged, particularly when it deteriorates into peevishness or retaliation.

In fact, it is my strong feeling that ''AILN'' contains too much nationalist rhetoric. For example, although Elvira Pulitano's book, ''Toward a Native American Critical Theory,'' is an obviously mainstream angle of vision on issues integral to contemporary American Indian Studies, I do not agree with statements that refer to her work, and those of others who might have different opinions than Weaver, Womack and Warrior, as ''deeply misguided.''

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I am also curious about co-authorship as an effective strategy related to ''AILN.'' Co-authorship is intriguing, and seems to have much potential, for example, as an opportunity to fairly juxtapose different points of view that are, nonetheless, similar in certain ways. Using co-authorship as a means of simply piling on similar points of view, however, not only seems overdone, but seems to be a significant departure from the best of American Indian Studies critical writing such as that of Vine Deloria Jr., Cook-Lynn or David Wilkins.

I am also skeptical of a text announcing itself as ''literary nationalism,'' which seems instead to return again and again to the old authenticity debate, which Deloria and Cook-Lynn have probably managed best, using scholarship that is also strongly grounded in tribal cultures and tradition.

A primary expression of this approach is Cook-Lynn's insistence in ''Anti-Indianism in Modern America'' that those who do most of the talking for American Indians should find a way to establish the tribal nations of America as their primary constituencies and to prioritize the defense of lands and resources and the sovereign autonomy of nationhood in their work. Nevertheless, in ''AILN,'' Cook-Lynn's work seems reduced to five or six footnotes subordinated to a laundry list of what the authors clearly consider to be ''important'' scholars, a list that reads like homage to the Modern Language Association.

One reason for this might be the fact that Cook-Lynn consistently exercises the power of choice, an essential aspect of sovereignty. Such choice is a form of resistance to assimilation, which reservation Indians consistently reject on the basis that the values of mainstream culture are inferior to their own tribal values. Furthermore, this attitude of rejection often applies to scholarship such as that found in ''AILN'' as well, on the basis it has no application to their lives, rather than because they are unintelligent or uninformed.

To be fair, Robert Warrior's recollection of Edward Said's ''refusal to allow students to throw around jargon in his classroom'' was something I liked very much within ''AILN.'' I liked it because it seemed genuinely connected to Warrior's life and history, rather than being just a reflection of a mainstream scholar's perceived authority.

However, I also think inaccuracies and a tendency toward repetition seriously undermine the overall purpose of ''AILN.'' Many things said in the book have not only been said before, they have been said much better. As a result, I do not think ''AILN'' gains much ground in terms of helping to move forward what I have described as a stalled Native criticism.

Sidner Larson is a member of the Gros Ventre-Assiniboine Community of Fort Belknap, Mont. He is the director of the American Indian Studies program at Iowa State University.