Womack, Craig. Introduction: American Indian Literary Self- Determination. Red on Red: Native American Literary Separatism. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1999. Nook File. 9-30.
In his polemical book Red on Red, Womack calls for an approach to Native literature that is Native, and more specifically, tribally-based, in the belief that in fact, “there is such a thing as a Native perspective and that seeking it out is a worthwhile endeavor” (12). In the introduction to his work, Womack actively defends his rejection of postmodernist approaches and theory (though he does not write in a “rejectionist mode”), as he is deeply suspicious of postmodern views of history, noting “it is way too premature for native scholars to deconstruct history when we haven’t yet constructed it” (11). Womack insists that a Native American literary critical framework and modes of production must continue to grow, evolve, grow, and avoid exclusion and prescriptiveness; he also insists that it is necessary for Native scholars to analyze Native texts, in order to establish a Native literary nationalism, for “without Native American literature, there is no American canon” (14). Womack employs assertive language throughout his introduction that may be difficult for some scholars to understand, particularly when he writes, “Understand this is not an argument for inclusion. I am saying this with all of the bias I can muster that our American canon, the Native literary canon of the Americans, predates their American canon”; in other words, Womack sees American literature and Native American literature “as two separate canons” (14), with different epistemologies, axiologies, and methodologies.
Womack’s work leaves readers and critics like myself with a serious question we must consider: as a white American scholar, do I have the ability or knowledge to appropriately study Native American Literature? I agree with Womack’s distrust of postmodern theory and approaches, and I even support the move towards separating the Native American canon from the American canon. But, as Womack believes there is a great need for Native scholars analyzing Native texts to explore a Native consciousness, we must consider: do non-Native scholars have the ability to appropriately analyze and participate in Native American literary scholarship? If we do not at the current time—particularly if we have only relied on the discourse established not by Native scholars, writers, or activists, but by white scholars—how do we proceed? Where do we start?