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We Are Beautiful and Whole Just As We Are

I’ve been thinking for days now about the most recent conversation I had with missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One part hit me in the gut and hasn’t left – when the missionary said that Native American ceremony and dance were incorrect traditions, a remnant of our people turning away from God.

When I was a child I was taught exactly what the missionary said and I missed out on cultural experiences and connection. I am not the only Indigenous person to experience this. There are so many of us… I have talked to many friends and family who experienced this.

Children in the Indian Placement Program were told the same thing. They were told that if they participated in ceremony during the summers with their people that they risked being kicked from the program. Children were forced to choose between disappointing family by not participating in cultural spiritual traditions, or disappointing family by being kicked out of the educational program. Their choice, in either direction, did not affect the church in any way. It was only Indigenous families (especially the children) who were affected.

Just this past week a friend on mine sent me a message on Facebook and she wrote, “The Church has been telling Indigenous members not to practice their heritage while also putting it in pageants and sponsoring movies for white members to act like “Lamanites.”

I don’t know why it took this long for me to see the gross double standard.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints taught and continues to teach Native Americans, South Americans, and Pacific Islanders that their spiritual and cultural traditions were incorrect. The church also continues to teach Indigenous families an incorrect ancestry. Lamanites, also called Children of Lehi, is on going. The entire time the church has told us not to act Native American the church has used Native American clothing and traditions in their movies, books, pageants, BYU singing groups, etc. This is what it looks like to use Indigenous people to sell a colonial fiction as fact.

So the church doesn’t want us to do Indigenous things – unless it is for them to use our identity and bodies to appropriate for their own purpose. When the church uses our identity it is good, but if it isn’t used by the Mormon church and is instead used for our own cultural traditions it is bad. Really?

Stop cultural appropriation. This church should not be using our clothing, bodies, and identity to sell a Lamanite myth, while also saying to not participate in spiritual ceremonies that are traditional and beautiful. Especially if the church is using those things to portray evil.

We have been called many things. We have been called evil, unrighteous, savage, and Lamanite. We have been told we lost our lands due to our evil ancestry turning away from God but told we should feel blessed because of God’s promises. We have been told our dark skin was a sign of a curse but to be grateful that though it was a sign and we did indeed inherit it, that God has decided it is no longer a sign (this doesn’t mean our people were not darkened as a sign of a curse – only that it’s purpose has been filled and there is no need to view dark skin as a sign of unrighteousness now). We weren’t raised with these teaching and children continue to be raised with them. We are told ugly things about ancestors and it is wrapped in pretty blessings to gaslight us into gratefulness. We have been told how we came to be in this land by those who did not know our true history nor do they have a right to it. They said they were here to save us while they took our land, resources, spirituality, and children. We were told we needed redemption. We didn’t. We don’t. We are beautiful and whole just as we are. We are the Indigenous of these lands.

4 Comments »

  1. To Anne, the “Indian” Placement Student who tried so hard to be part of our family, but who was very homesick and returned to the Navajo Nation, I apologize. I’m so sorry for my part in this horrid program. I hope you are thriving and learning, or have learned, how to retain your culture and heritage and be proud of it. And, again, my utter sorrow about all of this, but thanks to you Sarah, for your intelligence and thought and expression of deep feelings that make us all think about how wrong it all was.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This rejection of Indigenous ceremony and traditions is tragic. The red-face play is exploitative. Intriguingly, I’ve found some examples from the 19th Century in which Mormon missionaries actually joined in Native ceremonies. See the new biography of Jacob Hamblin.

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