Hi everyone. Just want to say thanks to those of you who reach out and encourage me. Also want to thank those who have conversations with me, ask me questions, and let me talk things out. This is a heavy topic to research, especially with my own trauma in relation to it, and the support and friendships are invaluable. Last, a special thank you to those who take the time to read my posts. I write them to honor the next generation of Native American children – to bring awareness to these issues so the next generation won’t have to. So thank you for reading and helping bring awareness.
As you read this article please keep in mind the following facts:
- Official representatives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also known as Mormons, are still teaching Native Americans and other Indigenous people they are literal Lamanites or Children of Lehi. They are still teaching that the Book of Mormon is Native American ancestry and history. They are still teaching that Native American and Indigenous people identified by the church as Lamanite had their skin darkened as a sign of a curse. This is not history, this is a current teaching.
- The Race and the Priesthood Essay – it is not addressing Native Americans when it revokes theology about black skin being a sign of divine disfavor or a curse, it is revoking the curse of Cain, interpretations about the Pearl of Great Price, the priesthood ban, and racist theology directed at Black people. All of which was horribly and painfully racist towards Black people. The essay was necessary, and is one small step in the right direction for Black members of the church. It simply should not be confused with the Native American/ Indigenous racist teachings found within the Book of Mormon. I have been surprised by how many people use that essay and think the Native American skin curse is no longer a thing. The racism in the Book of Mormon and skin curse theology which has been canonized within its pages has not been revoked. Those teachings are directed at Native Americans and Indigenous people of the Americas and Pacific Islands. It is their ancestors that the church claims the Book of Mormon is about. It is still current.
Example 1: A Missionary taught me in 2018 the following (I documented and transcribed the conversation. Below is a direct quote. Missionaries name is not used out of respect for the fact that it was a teenager.)
Sarah: “Skin color existed long before this timeline. This is naive. Are you telling me God put dark skin on all the people of the world when they were bad? Does that mean only white people were never cursed?”
Missionary: “Not all the people of the world, we only know of the Lamanites. We need to recognize that this was one situation, under these circumstances 2000 years ago. It is not saying all black people are wicked or cursed at all.”
Missionary: “And He had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them. (Book of Mormon: 2 Nephi 5:21) It would appear that this was done to limit wickedness. The skins of the Lamanites were dark that thereby the Lord God might preserve his people, that they might not mix and believe in incorrect traditions. That is from Alma chapter 3. Throughout the scriptures we find warnings of the Lord to not marry unbelievers. The result of doing so was often that the righteous were turned away from the Lord. Some people have mistakenly thought that the dark skin placed upon the Lamanites was the curse. President Joseph Fielding Smith explained that the dark skin was not the curse. He said that the dark skin was placed upon the Lamanites so that they could be distinguished from the Nephites and to keep the two peoples from mixing. The dark skin was the skin of the curse, not the curse itself. The curse was the withdrawal of the Spirit of the Lord. The dark skin of those who join the church is no longer considered a sign of the curse, these converts are delightsome and have the Spirit of the Lord! One great blessing is that the curse is only valid as long as people are wicked. If they repent, the curse of God will no longer follow them. There are many examples of righteous Lamanites who repented and enjoyed the Spirit of the Lord, one of them even became a prophet.”
I had let the missionary know earlier in the conversation that I was Native American. As someone whom they had just taught the Book of Mormon was about, then following it up with skin racist teachings, I was deeply hurt. There is this feeling of being invisible when dealing with direct racism that is hard to describe.
Example 2: Current Seminary Teachers Manual – 2019. The following is stated in the teachers manual – 2 Nephi Chapter 5.
“According to 2 Nephi 5:20, what was the consequence of the Lamanites’ disobedience? Make sure students understand that the curse mentioned in this chapter was separation from God. The changing of the Lamanites’ skin was only a mark or sign of the curse.”
All of these teachings are current. I know I say “current” often and that it is redundant, but I have been surprised to find out recently how many people have no idea it is current. I wrongly assumed people knew what I was talking about. With those things in mind on to my article.
Response to Literal Lamanite Descendant
Teachings and Lamanite Apologetics.
There are a number of apologetics around Lamanite Identity and DNA. There are also a number of apologetic arguments around God darkening skin pigmentation/ skin curse or sign of the curse. Originally I broke down many of the apologetic arguments, but the article got extremely long and repetitive. I found that all the apologetic arguments made fit into these three main categories. Responding in general to the main categories made more sense.
1- Literal Lamanite Descendants/ DNA. Since its founding The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has taught that Native Americans were the direct descendants of the Lamanites from the Book of Mormon. The church also taught that all Indigenous people in the Americas and Pacific Islands were descendants. In recent years the church admitted not all Indigenous people are literal direct descendants, but hold the belief that literal direct descendants still exist “somewhere”. They have admitted that they cannot prove, nor disprove, who the actual literal descendants are – as stated in the church published essay titled Book of Mormon and DNA Studies. Quote from the essay, “The Book of Mormon itself, however, does not claim that the peoples it describes were either the predominant or the exclusive inhabitants of the lands they occupied.”
If the church is openly admitting that other people existed in the Americas why are they teaching Native Americans and other Indigenous people that they are direct descendants of the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon? What proof or right do they have to send teenage missionaries into peoples homes to teach them that the Book of Mormon is a factual true story about their direct ancestors? I would like to add that DNA studies have already proven Indigenous people existed in the Americas not for a few thousand years, as the Book of Mormon suggests, but for tens of thousands of years.
With these facts in mind the church should no longer be teaching Native Americans that the Book of Mormon is their direct ancestry and history. Nor should the church label any Indigenous people as “Lamanite”. Native Americans have long and varied beautiful histories. Show some respect, especially towards the younger generations now being raised. Stop the ancestral appropriation and skin racist teachings. Stop sending teenage missionaries out as official representatives of the church with racist teachings. They too, those very young missionaries, deserve more respect than the church is showing. They deserve to have leaders who are honest in all their dealings.
2- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has admitted that not all people labeled Lamanite are direct descendants, but that some are labeled Lamanite due to their non-Christian beliefs when the Americas were colonized. That means Native American are being labeled as Lamanite because they had evil/ bad non-Christian spiritual beliefs. Their beliefs are at times called ignorant or savage within Mormonism. This is why the Book of Mormon states Lamanites were cursed by God, their land was taken from them and given to more righteous people, they were swept from the land (genocide), and why God darkened their skin. This is Manifest Destiny canonized as scripture from God. This is an extremely offensive, limited, and racist view of Indigenous religions, spiritual beliefs, cultures, and skin pigmentation. Spiritual and religious persecution through a racist lens.
Here is another direct quote from a conversation I had with missionaries in 2018.
Missionary: “The Nephites, who were generally the more righteous people, were killed off at the end of the Book of Mormons because of their wickedness and lack of turning to Jesus Christ. There was another civilization of people called the Lamanites, who more often than not denied Christ and His existence, and they were always at war with the Nephites. The Lamanites became the Native Americans who were in the Americas when Columbus came and settled the land. That’s why there was no religion established in the land when Columbus came, because the Lamanites didn’t believe in Christ. This happened around 421 A.D., so from that time to when Columbus came the Lamanites (Native Americans) had been softened by the Lord.”
(I will not quote my recent article, but Manifest Destiny and pro Columbus teachings were made at Brigham Young Education this past summer. It is current.)
I am still left speechless after reading that quote from the missionary. I remember feeling extremely sick after that conversation. The missionary had no idea the pain they were causing. I had been raised with those beliefs… I had to remind myself it was just a kid believing what they were taught. I had done that once too. The pain has not lessened with time. Native Americans did not have religious freedom until 1978. That is in my life time, I was a baby when that happened. Up to that point they could be killed or put in prison for spiritual expression. I won’t even get into what spiritual and cultural racism did to Native American children in boarding schools, day schools, and the church’s own Indian Placement Program. Kill the Indian to save the man… generational trauma.
3- Native Americans and Indigenous ancestors had their skin darkened as a curse, or sign of a curse. I have the hardest time responding to this one. Some apologetic arguments exist that say it is not skin color, but clothing or the spirit darkening. These are pointless to address. My response to those people is read your seminary manual, talk to some missionaries, and educate yourself about what your church really teaches. The church always has, and still does currently, teach it is skin that was darkened. Not only does this hurt real people, but I can personally attest it negatively impacts child brain development, self image, and how they see their world and family. It is idiotic that this is even a thing in the year 2019. In some ways it is, and should be, an embarrassment to the church with all we know about science, human evolution, and racism.
I internalized it all, as I was born and raised in the church. I didn’t come to terms with the Lamanite myth until I was 38 years of age. I am astounded by that fact actually. I am embarrassed and angry I ever believed it, and sad that I was raised with that teachings since childhood. As I became a teenager it was the most harmful. It needs to stop. Native Americans have survived enough generational trauma. It is time for the church to step up and start caring about their Native American and Indigenous children members. It is time to revoke all skin curse teachings. Remove it from the seminary manual and any other manuals it exists in. Remove it from the Book of Mormon. Actively teach your missionaries and official representatives of the church that you do not know who the Lamanites are, and that skin curse theology is wrong and is over. In the words of Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Stop it.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has not been unique in its persecution towards Indigenous people, skin color, beliefs, and way of life. However, it is unique in that it canonized those beliefs in the Book of Mormon. It is unique in that it sends missionaries out teaching these racist things to and about Native Americans. Older generations were raised in an even more racist environment, I do not judge those who came before me. Those older Native American generations were grabbing on to whatever non-Indigenous faith they were allowed to embrace. I see them as survivors. And to the next generation, it is for them I will not be silent. Even at a great personal cost, I will not be silent until Native American children are no longer raised with ancestral appropriation and skin curse theology. “American Indians” must be removed from the introduction of the Book of Mormon completely. No culture or group of people should be incorrectly labeled as “Lamanite” or “Children of Lehi”. The church can exist without ancestral appropriation and racism.
The move from incorrect teachings and labels to a more spiritual common ground for members of all ethnic backgrounds within the church will not be easy. On the contrary, I do not envy the difficulty in correcting this narrative. I only hope that the church will indeed face the needed changes and create safe spaces for all ethnic backgrounds. I hope the church works towards understanding the racism older generations internalized and accepted as part of their survival. And that just because they had to accept it in their lives does not make it right. Even if older people claim “Lamanite” identity, this DOES NOT absolve the church of being held accountable for what they teach as official doctrine. This does not absolve the church from continuing to teach this to children in seminary, or to families with young children when missionaries come to their door.
I also hope that both church members and non-members will show kindness and patience with these issues. Change will take time, and it is older Native American and Indigenous active members who will hurt the most as we work to change an incorrect narrative to a correct one. That very fact breaks my heart, but it must be done. We must honor the next generation. We must be brave enough to face painful and difficult truths for them. If we can’t put the children first and correct mistakes for the next generation then what are we doing?
What would the world look like if every choice made by those in power was measured by how it respected children? What if we were honest with them, and with ourselves?
Łootm na k’abatgüüłgm – We Respect Our Children
Written by Sarah Newcomb