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Reviewed by:
  • X-Marks: Native Signatures of Assent
  • Lauren Grewe (bio)
Scott Richard Lyons. X-Marks: Native Signatures of Assent. Indigenous Americas Series. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2010. ISBN 978-0-8166-6677-5. 248 pp.

In X-Marks: Native Signatures of Assent Scott Lyons powerfully foregrounds the Native treaty signature of the x-mark as a sign of Native assent to modernization and nationalization. “The moment of treaty,” Lyons writes, “was literally the invention of the modern Indian nation” (126). This focus on the political and cultural formation of Indian nations and nationalism situates Lyons’s work in conversation with American Indian literary nationalists—such as Robert Warrior, Craig Womack, Jace Weaver, and Elizabeth Cook-Lynn—as well as scholars like Michael A. Elliott. Polemical at points, Lyons nevertheless makes a compelling case for rethinking American Indian nationalism in ways that deemphasize essentialism in favor of Native diversity and, above all, Native choice. A key component of Lyons’s discussion is his reconsideration of traditionalism and its role in the modern Indian nation. X-Marks employs the figure of the x-mark to “symbolize Native assent to things (concepts, policies, technologies, ideas) that, while not necessarily traditional in origin, can sometimes turn out all right and occasionally even good” (3). Focusing on American Indian diversity and social issues, Lyons argues for the practice of a “realist nationalism” that would emphasize how Indian nations can improve their citizens’ lives through historically informed modernization and economic justice (140).

In an introduction that ranges from the Ojibwe Great Migration to the disruption of the modern/traditional binary, Lyons introduces the symbol that proves the driving force of his book: the x-mark. Though he acknowledges that Native people made these x-marks “in a context of coercion,” for Lyons, the x-mark is a sign of consent (1). Crucially, the x-mark signifies Native agency and, with that agency, a commitment to modernization in the form of Indian nations. Identifying three conceptual x-marks, identity, culture, and nation, Lyons builds his analysis of these concepts around [End Page 116] “the larger project of developing functional modern institutions in Native America” (12). Within this project, Lyons links modernization and nationalization with the ultimate goal of developing a socially conscious, inclusive indigenous nationalism.

The first three chapters of X-Marks center on these three concepts—identity, culture, and the nation—with a fourth chapter offering a more detailed examination of citizenship. Each chapter first engages with the current debates surrounding these terms and relies on Ojibwe and English etymology to shed light on them as historically situated concepts and, significantly, modern constructions. Indian nations became nations when Indian nationalists decided to “modernize their ethnie” through the signing of treaties (122). These acts transformed Indian ethnies into modern, sovereign nations recognized by and engaging with other nations. Though his analysis covers any tribal nation with a treaty relation to the United States, Lyons also takes a tribally specific approach, drawing many of his examples from Ojibwe language (Ojibwemowin) and sources. In his second chapter, for instance, Lyons examines the controversy surrounding the Sweetgrass Road drummers. Citing a customary ban on female drum singers, the powwow committee rejected this group of six Ojibwe women from the annual powwow at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota due to their gender. The women subsequently filed a discrimination lawsuit against the university, and to avoid further litigation, the university shut down the annual powwow for good. According to Lyons, this action produced “a reduction of Native culture—one less powwow, a little less culture in the world . . . segregating cultures at a time when exchange possessed real benefits” (95). Using tribal specificity, Lyons interrogates cultural policing within Indian nations, revealing the wider political and social consequences of such acts.

In the first chapter, “Identity Crisis,” Lyons redefines Indian identity as fluid and multiple but, importantly, always political. Taking a cue from the abundance of verbs compared to nouns in Ojibwemowin, Lyons argues, “Indian identity is something people do, not what they are, so the real question is, what should we do?” (40). Turning to Eva Marie Garroutte’s “radical indigenism”—or [End Page 117] reclaiming the root of...


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pp. 116-120
Launched on MUSE
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