Saints and Indians
December 21, 2004 4:25 PM   Subscribe

" Fifty years ago, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or Mormon Church, began a foster care program for American Indian children. Between twenty and fifty thousand children, mostly Navajo, participated in what was called the Indian Student Placement Program....Through Placement, children had the opportunity to grow up in families – white Mormon families – while attending day schools in Utah and across the West. Placement also had a theological motivation. Championed in the ‘50s by an LDS Church leader named Spencer W. Kimball, Placement grew from a sense of commitment to the Indians – then regarded as descendants of the original people of the Book of Mormon. Listen to the amazing story, full of first hand accounts from both sides here
posted by BrodieShadeTree (18 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
...then regarded as descendants of the original people of the Book of Mormon.

Has the policy changed? Are American Indians no longer a lost tribe of Israel? When did the Mormons change that dictum? No wonder my Native American friends look perplexed when I wish them a happy Rosh Hashanah.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:32 PM on December 21, 2004

The policy of exclusion of non-whites into the church was lifted in 1978 but I dunno about the "official" stance on Native Americans. After reading Krakauer's book I tend to think Utah is beyond all hope.
posted by TetrisKid at 4:43 PM on December 21, 2004

This radio piece really opens up so deep topics as to culture and religion, and most obviously- the treatment of Native Americans in the not too distant past.
Its very good.
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 4:45 PM on December 21, 2004

Horrifying stuff. The Anglican church in Canada did the same thing, resulting in an absolute disaster with wide-spread abuse. The CBC has a fairly comprehensive archive on the subject with audio, video, and other links. It also follows their plight for compensation.
posted by helvetica at 4:48 PM on December 21, 2004

That sounds sort of perverse. I haven't had a chance to listen to the audio yet (I'm at work) but I hope they're not trying to glamorize the extermination of native culture.

On a lighter note, did they teach them the secret Mormon (originally Masonic) handshakes?
posted by mullingitover at 5:31 PM on December 21, 2004 [1 favorite]

Placement also had a theological motivation.

I doubt this program also had a theological motivation...

As helvetica says, this is a familiar story in Canada, not just for first nations (though most notably so), but also for the children of other groups who didn't fit in. The children of Russian Dukabors in BC, for instance.
posted by at 5:51 PM on December 21, 2004

Thank you brodieshadetree. I was touched by these voices,
of children singing hymns,and the story told 1st person.
My gggrand mothers came from Denmark with my
gg grandfather and pioneered inS.E. Idaho. the Shoshone
Tribe converted to Mormonism enmass. Mormons meant well and did provide education. So comparisons with forced education in Canada are unfair.
the childrens songs heard in the post are in hear
posted by hortense at 6:57 PM on December 21, 2004

'Foster Care' is a rather nice euphamism for 'forced removal and imprisonment'
posted by nathan_teske at 6:59 PM on December 21, 2004

In Australia last century something similar happened, also with with quasi-religious overtones. Young Aboriginies were forcibly taken from their families and raised as whites, ostensibly for their own benefit. All with the best intentions. As this site notes,

During the 1900s separation was an official government policy which lasted for many decades and today, many Aboriginal people do not know their origins. In other words, which tribe they are descended from or the names of their parents and or grandparents. They are a lost generation.

It makes you wonder what we might be doing today, for the best of reasons, that our descendants will look back on in horror. Oh. Right.
posted by mono blanco at 7:04 PM on December 21, 2004

There is also the belief that Indians will become white as they accept Mormonism over time. LDS officials disagree, although the question appears to hinge on translation errors.
posted by allan at 7:39 PM on December 21, 2004

Doesn't "American Indian" mean an American living in India? I thought we call them Native Americans.
posted by knave at 9:58 PM on December 21, 2004

Sense of commitment. Fine, fine choice of words. A fine show about a perverse cult indoctrinating people who really didn't want their indoctrination. (insert historical precedent here at your leisure.)
Doesn't the choice of words like 'placement' sound ominous? Why do these people call themselves foster parents? Of course you had to sign on the dotted line with a baptism...
Once again this shows the mormon establishment as the Wal-Mart of modern belief systems.
One more bookmark to add to the "Lord, Save me from your followers" folder. Sorry for the disjointed thoughts, but few things infuriate me more than the insidious nature of people doing God's will. (And nothing like hearing a mormon woman giving dating advice about keeping bloodlines pure.)
posted by TomSophieIvy at 11:05 PM on December 21, 2004

From a recent newsposting.
SANDY, Utah - Grant Palmer was raised to believe in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and has spent most of his life in its service.

He has gone on a mission, for years attended regular services and worked more than three decades as a church-funded Mormon educator.

But about 20 years ago, he began to doubt the way Mormon scripture characterizes certain parts of its early history. After years of study, he finally rolled those doubts together and published a book.

Two years and 281 pages later, the gray-haired, balding and bespectacled 64-year-old man faces excommunication from a church he says he still loves. Today, he's scheduled to appear in an apostasy trial judged by church leaders for failing to obey the gospel by publishing a book that questions whether founder Joseph Smith misrepresented his authority as a prophet and revised church scripture to his advantage.

Palmer's book, "An Insider's View of Mormon Origins," suggests that Smith didn't actually translate the Book of Mormon, as LDS faithful believe, "by the gift and power of God" from an ancient set of golden plates. Instead, it suggests Smith penned it himself, leaning heavily on the King James Bible, emotional Methodist tent revivals, Masonry and other personal experiences in a highly superstitious era of American history.

" then regarded as descendants of the original people of the Book of Mormon."

This is a reference to the Book of Mormon being a literal history of the people that lived in North/South America when Jesus came to teach here during the three days he was 'dead' in that cave. This is all part of the literal history one should bear testimony to in order to recieve God's gifts in this earthly realm.

Book of Mormon stories is a song I got to listen to my nieces and nephews sing constantly when I visited them a few weeks back. The first verse (There are a number of them)
.1. Book of Mormon stories that my teacher tells to me
Are about the Lamanites in ancient history.
Long ago their fathers came from far across the sea,
Giv'n the land if they lived righteously.

2. Lamanites met others who were seeking liberty,
And the land soon welcomed all who wanted to be free.
Book of Mormon stories say that we must brothers be,
Giv'n the land if we live righteously.
posted by wah at 12:46 AM on December 22, 2004

'Foster Care' is a rather nice euphamism for 'forced removal and imprisonment'

posted by moonbird at 4:21 AM on December 22, 2004

knave, most "native americans" actually prefer to be called indians. "american indian" is just an effort to distinguish them from people from India.
posted by whatnot at 8:20 AM on December 22, 2004 [2 favorites]

"...then regarded as descendants of the original people of the Book of Mormon."

Has the policy changed? Are American Indians no longer a lost tribe of Israel? When did the Mormons change that dictum?

You probably know that the Book of Mormon is considered by the LDS church to be revealed scripture with the same standing as the bible.

And "obvious" or most straightforward interpretation of the Book of Mormon is that all or essentially all of the native inhabitants of the Americas the Europeans encountered when they came to America, were descendents of the group of people who, according to the Book of Mormon account, left Jerusalem and sailed to America ca. 600 BC. Let's call this the "naive viewpoint".

Mid-to-late 20th century, a growing group of Mormon scholars started to realize that the "naive viewpoint" was essentially impossible (given history, archaeology, etc.) so (assuming as they do that the Book of Mormon is a true history) the original group that came from Jerusalem must have encountered a previously existing population in the Americas, who somehow were never specifically mentioned in the Book of Mormon. They also reinterpreted the Book of Mormon geography, which under the naive viewpoint encompasses all of North, South, and Central America, to possibly include only a limited geography--maybe in Central America somewhere. According to this viewpoint (let's call it the "apologetic viewpoint"), the small group from Jerusalem came to dominant a much larger pre-existing population (at least in some regions of the Americans). So current native Americans, or at least some of them, would have not a large but a small percentage of Jewish ancestry.

Based on current research into DNA of native Americans, which seems to completely exclude any (significant?) connection between the tribes of Israel and native Americans, some Mormons like Grant Palmer, mentioned above, have come to believe that the Book of Mormon is in some sense spiritually true and powerful, like a parable, but is not in any sense literally true. Thus there is no literal Jewish ancestry of American Indians to be found, nor literal ruins in South or Central America (LDS members have spent fortunes tromping around Central and South America looking for evidence of baptismal fonts and the like). Let's call this the "spiritual viewpoint".

During the 1800s the "naive viewpoint" was essentially the only viewpoint with any wide currency in the LDS church. It is still widely held among the vast majority of LDS church membership who "believe" but otherwise haven't given this particular matter much thought or research.

Mid to late 1900s the "apologetic viewpoint" was developed and gradually increased in currency. It has been propounded by many LDS scholars of various stripes. Now, in one form or another, it is probably held by most LDS members who "believe" in general but have also given any particular study to the problems of the naive viewpoint. Some (many?) LDS leaders who have addressed the issue have given at least a qualified endorsement to some version of the apologetic viewpoint, or at least allowed that this viewpoint was possible. So it is clearly, if not officially endorsed, at least officially "allowed". You won't be kicked out of the LDS church for propounding the "apologetic viewpoint".

The "spiritual viewpoint" is certainly held by some percentage of LDS members, though often privately. It cannot by any means be said to be mainstream, and expressing this viewpoint publicly is likely to get you the sort of treatment Mr. Palmer received--that is, church discipline or even excommunication.

Another, and possibly more relevant, development through the last half of the 20th century is that there has been a certain de-emphasis of the whole Lamanite doctrine. It wasn't uncommon in the early to mid 1900s to hear important speeches by high church leaders about how the "Lamanites" (meaning all native American & Polynesian peoples) were going to return to the House of Israel (ie, the Mormon fold), become pure and righteous and white and delightsome.

I'm not saying you would NEVER hear such a speech now in the LDS church (though the "white and delightsome" part will be omitted, since the Book of Mormon translation on that point has been revised to read "pure and delightsome"). But both the quantity and prominence of such talk has clearly declined. You don't see anything like the "Indian Placement" program going on nowadays.

Altogether I'd say the "Lamanite doctrine" is well on its way to becoming a latent rather than an active doctrine of the LDS church.

It's still there, but it's not emphasized to the degree it once was.
posted by flug at 10:00 AM on December 22, 2004

Thanks flug, between this radio piece and the responsses here, I have learned ALOT about the area I live in .
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 10:20 AM on December 22, 2004

Knave & Whatnot:

I work with India-Indians, and they have a phrase they use to distinguish themselves from Native Americans. When they say "Indian" , they usually follow it with "dot not feather". I thought it was pretty funny.

It wasn't til I worked with them that I realized just how wrong calling our Native Americans "Indian" is. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest surrounded by reservations, and all the Native American friends I had preferred to be called Native American, just for that reason.
posted by Keurigirl at 12:43 PM on December 22, 2004

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