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Book of Mormon and current Christopher Columbus Teachings on Indigenous Peoples’ Day

For Indigenous Peoples’ Day I thought I would ask the question: Where does the church stand on Christopher Columbus and Indigenous People?

In the church manual published in 2020 Come Follow Me – Individuals and Family Manual – on page 15 it states the following: 

Lesson Manual, 1 NEPHI 13:12

Who was the man Nephi saw whom the Spirit “wrought upon” to go “forth upon the many waters”? 

Verse 12, “And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.”

Nephi saw that the Holy Ghost would inspire Christopher Columbus to make his famous voyage to the Americas. On March 14, 1493, Columbus wrote of this voyage: “These great and marvelous results are not to be attributed to any merit of mine … ; for that which the unaided intellect of man could not compass, the Spirit of God has granted to human exertions, for God is wont to hear the prayers of His servants who love His precepts even to the performance of apparent impossibilities” (The Annals of America [Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1976], 1:5).

The church teaches above that Christopher Columbus was prophesied of coming and was inspired and led by God. 

The church does not discuss that Christopher Columbus and his men decimated through violence, rape of children and girls as young as 9, killing of babies as well as adults, and cutting off the hands of those who didn’t find treasure for him – then tying their hands around their necks as they bleed to death and died. 

The spirit of God is taught as being upon Christopher Columbus. But why did God guide Christopher Columbus to the Indigenous people? Below the scriptures teach some more about Indigenous people – called Lamanites in the church. Below it mentions the “seed of my brethren” which is referring to the Lamanites.

Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 13

10 And it came to pass that I looked and beheld many waters; and they divided the Gentiles from the seed of my brethren.

11 And it came to pass that the angel said unto me: Behold the wrath of God is upon the seed of thy brethren. 

14 And it came to pass that I beheld many multitudes of the Gentiles upon the land of promise; and I beheld the wrath of God, that it was upon the seed of my brethren; and they were scattered before the Gentiles and were smitten.

15 And I beheld the Spirit of the Lord, that it was upon the Gentiles, and they did prosper and obtain the bland for their inheritance; and I beheld that they were white, and exceedingly fair and beautiful, like unto my people before they were slain.

So above we read that the wrath of God is upon the Indigenous people of this land. That is why God gave away their “Land of Promise.” That is why God brought Christopher Columbus to the peaceful people who aided Christopher Columbus and his men, because God was angry with the Indigenous people. You see, what happened to them was their own fault. At least in the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon promised the Lamanites this Land of Promise, but only if they were Christians. The Lamanites turned away from God, and they were considered lost and no longer deserved God’s protection of their promised land. 

Note above in that final verse 15, the people who inherit the land are fair and beautiful. Mormons teach that Indigenous/ Lamanites skin was darkened as a sign of them turning away from God and being cursed. But they also recently updated this teaching to say that it is no longer a sign of them being cursed in the year 2020. So our ancestor’s dark skin was a sign of evil, but our dark skin is not. So see, not a problem. So long as we don’t have a problem with racism towards our ancestors we are totally in the clear. (Obviously I am being sarcastic. Still super offensive, and yes, still current teaching about our ancestors. Not ok.)

In the scriptures we learn of the prophecy that the Lamanites would turn away from God. 

Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi Chapter 1 – To summarize, here are the main points in this chapter:

  • Lehi obtains a land of promise for his family. It shall be kept from all other nations. There will be non to molest or take away their land of inheritance, and they will dwell safely forever. 
  • But, if they dwindle in unbelief (turn away from Christianity), after having been so greatly blessed, if they reject Jesus Christ, then they will be judged. 
  • By verse 11 it reads: “Yea, he (God) will bring other nations unto them, and he will give unto them power, and he will take away from them (the Lamanites/ Indigenous) the lands of their possessions, and he will cause them to be scattered and smitten.” 

If Indigenous people would have been good Christian people then God would have protected them in their land of promise and never brought Christopher Columbus to this land. They would not have been judged – genocide, disease, famine, all fault lay at our own Indigenous ancestors feet.

As it is put in verse 18: “Or, that a cursing should come upon you for the space of many generations; and ye are visited by sword, and by famine, and are hated, and are led according to the will and captivity of the devil.”

Indigenous people (called Lamanites) were apparently in the captivity of the devil, because they didn’t believe in Christ. If only their ancestors had been righteous… if only then perhaps Christopher Columbus and his men would not have killed babies and raped 9 and 10 year old girls. But remember Columbus was led by God, and the Indigenous people, the Arawaks, they were the descendants of the Lamanites who had turned away from God. Better to kill them off then another generation dwindle in unbelief… To be clear, the Indigenous people are not Lamanites, this is only a Mormon belief. They have a much richer and lengthier heritage that predates the Book of Mormon timeline. Their spirituality and beliefs are completely their own, and are not the result of evil. Moving on… 

To note, the Book of Mormon NEVER specifies Christopher Columbus. It is actually an interpretation by leaders taught as fact. Lamanite identity is also interpretation taught as official facts by the church. There are a number of problems with this. 

First, assuming the identity of Indigenous people as being Lamanite descendants is a form of appropriation – Ancestral Appropriation. This is as gross as it gets with appropriation. Telling people who have barely survived genocide, disease, having children forcibly removed from their homes, forced haircuts, punishments for speaking the language, cultural and spiritual persecution, and their way of life being destroyed in just a few hundred years because their ancestors didn’t believe in Christ… it is ancestral appropriation mixed with religious persecution. Indigenous people had and still have beautiful spiritual and cultural beliefs. Many have included Christianity into their lives now, but they do not need the extra weight of considering their ancestors as evil because they weren’t Christian. And yes, this is current. I was taught by a missionary that Native Americans are Lamanites last month, blog post on that coming soon. 

Second, assuming it was Christopher Columbus… wow, I am surprised I even have to explain this. It doesn’t take much to learn Christopher Columbus’s history. This takes so much away from the church. So incredibly unnecessary. I may have been hurt by many of the racial teachings in the church, but I absolutely loved the people. So many of my friends and family are members. They are kind and good people. This teaching is incredibly embarrassing as well as repulsive towards those who were decimated by Columbus and his men. It is assumptive, and should be removed. The Book of Mormon does not need or benefit from this interpretation being taught as fact. Let us not forget last year at BYU Education Week that Christopher Columbus teachings were actively taught. That does not need to be repeated in the future by a member who thinks it is fact because no steps were made to correct this issue by leadership, instead leadership somewhere backed it up and put it in the current manual. Manifest destiny and doctrine of discovery do not aid the church, but hurt it. How is this even current? It should not be taught. Maybe for a future Indigenous People’s Day we will be able celebrate it by celebrating changes of honorably and courageously removing this from lesson manuals. 

Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day! And ever the optimist that I am – with hope for a future filled with more respect towards Indigenous heritage and history. 

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