An early snow covered the sugar beet fields around Richfield, Utah, in the late fall of 1947. Almost all of the Indians who worked the fields had left the valley. Among the few who remained to dig sugar beets from the frozen ground was a sixteen-year-old girl named Helen. She was still there not because she was anxious about digging beets, but because she wanted to secure an education that was not available to her if she returned home.
Helen asked a Richfield family for permission to pitch a tent in their backyard so she might remain in the town and attend school. This request came just after the family had attended a stake conference in which Golden Buchanan spoke on the condition of the Indian people.
The meshing of these two events resulted in a request for advice from Elder Spencer W. Kimball of the Council of the Twelve, his visit to Richfield, and the subsequent acceptance of Helen into the Buchanan home.
Nine Indian youngsters were taken into Latter-day Saint homes the next fall. It was an informal beginning that has grown into the Indian Student Placement program, touching the lives of more than five thousand Lamanite students during the past school year. And it could further be identified as a new awakening on the part of members of the Church to the Lamanite and his prophetic destiny.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is unique in its theological and philosophical understanding of the peoples in the Americas known as Indians and of the inhabitants of the Pacific islands. These people are a remnant of the House of Jacob and descendants of Lehi, an Israelite who left Jerusalem and came to the Americas around 600 B.C. Found in the Book of Mormon, a record of revelations received by these ancient peoples, are great promises for the Lamanites.
These prophetic promises prompted Joseph Smith, who translated and published the Book of Mormon in 1830, to carry the gospel to the Lamanites in the very early days of the Church’s existence. And from that day until this the gospel has been preached to those who are identified as Lamanites.
From the early proselyting activities started by Joseph Smith, from the enlightened social approach taken by Brigham Young as the Saints settled Utah, and from the reaching out of an Indian girl in Richfield has grown a broad group of programs in support of the Indian, theologically as well as temporally.
Today, as never before, the Church is carrying the gospel to the Lamanites, providing secular and religious training, and attempting to be a catalyst for the economic emergence of this great people.
Overall direction for Church programs of special interest to the Lamanites rests with Elder Marion G. Romney of the Council of the Twelve, chairman of the Church Social Services Department. Elder Marvin J. Ashton, Assistant to the Council of the Twelve, is managing director of the Social Services Department. Within that department Stewart A. Durrant serves as coordinator of Lamanite and other cultures.
At the heart of the Church’s programs, however, are the stakes and missions where the proselyting, teaching, and fellowshiping take place. All other things are peripheral to the actual practice of the gospel.
In addition to the basic Church program, the Lamanites are served by the general auxiliaries, the Lamanite seminary program, the Lamanite student placement program, the Brigham Young University Lamanite education program, Church College of Hawaii, and Church schools in the Pacific islands and Latin America. There are also several special institutes and research programs at BYU and Church College of Hawaii.
Each of these programs is a unique story and needs to be told in detail at some later date. The purpose here, however, is to acquaint the broad membership of the Church with a quick review of what is going on. Further, Lamanite members of the Church should realize the strength that they are adding to the Church not only in numbers but in testimony and service.
One young Lamanite Latter-day Saint at Brigham Young University feels this growth. Howard Ranier, a Taos-Pueblo who has a bachelor’s degree in communications and has served a mission for the Church, said, “The wonderful prophecies of the Church are being fulfilled at such an accelerated pace that the Lamanites must now consider their place in this great work, which the Savior said would surely come before his return.
“Thousands of dollars and hours have been poured into the work by so many members to bring about this new era,” he added. “The time has come for Lamanites to awaken to the fact that they can be experts and work side by side with non-Lamanites in building Indian Israel.
“We are definitely going to see in the future many more Lamanites graduating from college who are going to be ready and willing to meet the challenges of doing their part in making the scripture ‘blossoming as a rose’ a true symbol of righteous living and who will share their technical skills with those Indians who are seeking to become a self-reliant people.”
Howard is only one of literally thousands of Lamanites who have been influenced by one or more of the special Church programs.
During this year over 16,000 youngsters from elementary through high school age have been involved in Indian seminary programs in the United States and Canada. The enrollment of Lamanite students at Brigham Young University reached 548 during the spring semester, an increase of over two hundred from the previous school year. As an aside, there are more Indian students at BYU than any other Anglo college in the United States.
It has already been noted that more than five thousand youngsters from reservations throughout the United States and Canada spent the last school year with non-Lamanite Latter-day Saint families. Even though there are some problems and frustrations, this great program widens the vision of the Indian youngster and helps to narrow the opportunity gap that exists between the Anglo society and the Indian society.
Placement program administrators feel that one of the major results of the program is to give the Indian student a better concept of himself, not to make him into a white man, as is sometimes charged. Further, these young people scattered throughout the Church cannot help but break down the barriers of prejudice that may exist among the whites.
Church schools in the Pacific and Latin America make a contribution to the spiritual and temporal lives of Latter-day Saints in those areas that may be difficult for Church members in the center stakes to appreciate.
Possibly the most important thing that could be said about the Lamanite programs of the Church is that they are developing leadership and strength among the Lamanites. The gospel of Jesus Christ brings men and women to a greater measure of their potential, and nowhere is this more evident than among the Lamanite members of the Church.
And on the other side of the coin, the vestiges of paternalism and prejudice among the non-Lamanites in the Church are being worn away.