The Lamanite Truth Project is a call to address the current teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints towards Native Americans. This project is an effort to cease all speculation about who the Lamanite people are, stop religious racism, and make a plea to remove the term “American Indians” from the Introduction of the Book of Mormon. As part of this effort the Lamanite Truth Project will focus on missionary work within Mormonism.
Part One – Speculation of Lamanite Identity
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has identified “American Indians” as Lamanites since its founding in 1830. The Introduction to the Book of Mormon states, “After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians.” The Book of Mormon is still being taught to Native Americans and Indigenous peoples as being an accurate historical record of their direct ancestors. Archaeology, DNA, and Indigenous oral history all disprove this claim.
The terms: American Indian, Indian, Lamanite, and Children of Lehi are all labels the church has used interchangeably throughout its history to identify Native Americans. Since the Book of Mormon uses the term “American Indian” this will appear often throughout the Lamanite Truth Project, but only to reflect the Mormon terminology. Please be sensitive to the Native American community as they have often been wrongly labeled, which is connected to colonization. The most acceptable terms to use are Native American or Indigenous.
Listed below are just some of the issues surrounding the term Lamanite when used to identify “American Indians”:
1- Native Americans have a rich and beautiful heritage. Telling Native Americans that they do not know their own history or ancestry is offensive. The act of replacing their heritage is a form of colonization and cultural genocide. This should never have happened to begin with, but with the knowledge we now have it definitely should not still be happening within Mormonism.
2- Native American cultural and spiritual traditions are considered remnants of evil within the Lamanite story found in the Book of Mormon. This destroys the beauty and spirituality of real living people. Native Americans should feel no shame over their cultural traditions, nor shame about their ancestors. They have been forced to choose between culture and the church, for choosing both is not welcomed in Mormonism.
3- Native American evil ancestry – The Book of Mormon teaches that American Indian ancestors were so evil that God cursed them by completely withdrawing His spirit from them. This is the reason Mormons give as to why Native Americans had no religion when America was colonized. This shows complete disregard for religious freedom, and total ignorance about Native American spirituality. The level of evil required for God to completely withdraw His spirit from an entire people has been put upon American Indians in the pages of the Book of Mormon.
4- Native American ancestors were cursed with dark skin in the Book of Mormon. This dark skin curse was a physical sign of the greater curse, God removing His spirit from them. Darkened skin, as taught in the Book of Mormon, is a sign to more righteous people. God did this so the righteous might easily identify the unrighteous. God’s purpose for this physical sign of dark skin was to keep the righteous people from mixing (marrying) with the unrighteous people. Teaching living Native American people that this is the reason for their skin pigmentation, that it is a punishment from God, is deeply offensive.
5- Native Americans pass on the sign of the curse, darkened skin, to their children. Another generation of Native American descendants raised with toxic religious racism. Babies… Native Americans should not be told that the pigmentation of their beautiful new babies are the result of ancestral curses. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints claims it never apologizes. In this instance it needs to. Speculation over “Lamanite” identity needs to cease.
6- Native Americans that join Mormonism are promised that the curse that God removed His spirit from them will be lifted if they join the Mormon church. However, any of their family that does not join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints will still carry the curse. This deeply hurts and affects family relationships. Cultural shaming pushed into and between family members.
7- Native Americans have been taught that their skin will lighten in pigment as they embrace the gospel within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This is no longer a much talked about aspect of Lamanite identity, but it still exists. Living Native Americans were taught this and raised with this belief.
8- Native American ancestors turned away from God in the Lamanite story, thereby causing the Indigenous genocide and colonization of America. The Book of Mormon states that God punishes them with with the bloodshed of their people and the taking of their land. God brings people from other nations and gives American Indian lands to the new more righteous people. The Book of Mormon states: “Yea, he will bring other nations unto them, and he will give unto them power, and he will take away from them the lands of their possessions, and he will cause them to be scattered and smitten. Yea, as one generation passeth to another there shall be bloodsheds…” (2 Nephi: Chap 1) This is a massively disrespectful teaching to the surviving and living descendants of Native American and Indigenous peoples. Their ancestors deaths and loss of land were not the result of being evil, and should not be dishonored with such a myth. Blaming Native Americans for their own genocide and colonization is beyond toxic.
The above teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in regards to Lamanites and American Indians are current. To explore these teachings I have included the transcripts below of two conversations I had with Mormon missionaries: (Note: I will not include the names of the missionaries in the transcript as I want to protect them. I do not hold an 18 or 19 year old responsible for being taught false doctrine with the church’s long held policy of American Indian erasure.)
First Conversation with Missionaries – January 31, 2018
I had wondered for a time if perhaps my experience with racism in the church was uncommon. Perhaps other indigenous people were not taught they were a Lamanite as I was, or that their family who had not joined the church still carried the curse. Was I alone in learning that my indigenous peoples culture, dancing, and celebrations were remnants of evil and turning away from God? Was this experience of mine unique? So I decided to reach out to the missionaries who are official representatives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to ensure I was not working under an incorrect understanding. Below is a quote from the first conversation to highlight the offensive teaching that Native Americans had no religion before Columbus came.
Missionary said, “The Nephites, who were generally the more righteous people, were killed off at the end of the Book of Mormon 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.” To see the full conversation click the following link: My talk with Missionaries.
Second Conversation with Mormon Missionaries – April 18, 2018
During that first conversation I had not informed the missionaries that I was Native American. I thought, given the chance, that if they were aware of my ethnicity they would have been more sensitive. So once again I approached the missionaries. Below is a portion of that conversation.
Missionary: “The Book of Mormon actually starts in Israel, but the family moved to the American continent… After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians.”
Sarah: “Only the Lamanites were left at the end of the Book of Mormon, and those are the Native Americans?”
Sarah: “Native Americans have no history of Christianity. Why don’t Native Americans have that in their oral histories at the time America was discovered? I am Native American. I can tell you that my ancestors did not come from that part of the world. Surprised me when you said that the Book of Mormon was of my ancestors.”
Missionary: “Didn’t mean to surprise you! But that is really cool that you’re Native American!”
(I picked up my phone while I was talking to them and typed in a quick search.)
Sarah: “If I search the word Lamanites and the Book of Mormon it brings up a page at the top, which when I open it states something about a skin of blackness.”
Missionary: “Yes, the skin color change was just a sign of a curse, not the curse itself.”
Sarah: “So skin was darkened due to a curse?”
Missionary: “A curse was put upon people. The curse was that they were withdrawn from the spirit of God because they were wicked. The others needed a sign to help them know who didn’t have the spirit with them. So their skin was darkened so they could see who was who. Dark skin is not the curse itself.”
Missionary: (Sharing 2nd Nephi 5:21) “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. 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 sign 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 the 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.”
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.” To read the full blog post of this conversation click the following link: Second Conversation with Mormon Missionaries.
I wondered for a moment if the missionary believed that these last words somehow showed that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Days Saints was not racist. “Not saying all black people are wicked”, just Lamanites were, just my people… Instead the missionary’s words left me surprised and in pain. The entire conversation was extremely painful.
The evidence that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is continuing to speculate about who the Lamanites are is obvious. It is unnecessary, the Book of Mormon is fully capable of standing as a spiritual text without appropriating Native American cultures. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints needs to cease speculation of who the Lamanites are, remove the term “American Indians” from the introduction, and begin training/ educating their official representatives about these issues.
By Sarah Newcomb Published on March 6, 2019
Part Two – History of Missionary Work with Native Americans – COMING SOON
Part Three – Interviews and Shared Stories – COMING SOON