Here's What The Book Of Mormon Says About Native Americans

The Book of Mormon, published by Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints founder Joseph Smith in 1830, is the sacred religious text for millions of faithful believers worldwide. According to the church itself, the book purports to contain the words of ancient prophets, some of whom allegedly lived in what is now the United States of America, in some cases thousands of years ago.

However, the book is not just a spiritual text; in many ways, it's a snapshot of U.S. history at the time of its writing. In particular, passages of the text attempt to deal with the matter of Native Americans.

During Smith's time, the matter of Native Americans wasn't just an abstract concept. Questions about their welfare, about the United States' expansion into their territory, and indeed, their spiritual well-being, were concerns for many Americans during Smith's time.

The Book of Mormon deals with Native Americans, attempting to reconcile their very existence with Christian theology, as well as the future of their race.

The Book of Mormon teaches that Native Americans are descendants of a lost tribe of Israelites

As detailed by Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon, many Christians of Smith's time found themselves having to reconcile the fact that humans existed in the landmass that would come to be known as North and South America, and a Biblical historical narrative of humanity that didn't mention them at all.

One theory popular at the time was that the Native Americans were the descendants of a "Mound Builder" civilization. These mysterious builders were actually a white race, according to the theory, and that they were destroyed by a more savage race — the race that is genetically the modern Native American. Smith's belief, and the narrative of the Book of Mormon, mirror this popular-at-the-time belief.

Further, such theories suggested that Native Americans were descendants of a Lost Tribe of Israel.

The Book of Mormon, for its part, postulates that Native Americans are descended from a tribe known as the Lamanites, described by Washington University as "the antithesis of civilized, Christianized, white Nephites," Nephites being another Lost Tribe that frequently went to war with the Lamanites.

The Book Of Mormon also taught that Native Americans could become white

Until the 1980s, the Book of Mormon had a prophecy about the Native American tribes: that they would, if they joined the religion that held the book sacred, become "white and delightsome." However, as The New York Times reported back in 1981, a new edition of the book (and indeed, subsequent editions) changed that prophecy to read "pure and delightsome."

The belief that proselytizing the Native Americans would bring them to a higher state of racial purity informed the Church's dealings with the tribes for a century. Indeed, according to a 2016 report in The Atlantic, one method of evangelizing the Native Americans, known as the Mormon Indian Student Placement Program, put Indian children into foster care in white, Latter-day Saints homes. Some white participants in the program would later say that the charges in their care even developed lighter skin from being among whites, in keeping with the prophecy that becoming a Latter-day Saint would remove the "stain" of their skin color.

Elise Boxer, a history professor at the University of South Dakota, noted that the Latter-day Saints' collective view of Native Americans was not all that different from that of other Christians of the day, saying, "Mormon people are not unique in how they see Native people."