Note: This post continues our series on Mormonism and indigenous histories. Barbara Jones Brown is a talented historian who serves on the board of the Mormon History Association with me. She is a wonderful historian who displays compassion towards her historical subjects and to those people she meets as part of everyday life. She has worked extensively on the Mountain Meadows Massacre and on twentieth-century Mormon Indian history. She received a bachelor’s degree in English and journalism at Brigham Young University in Provo and a master’s degree in history from the University of Utah. We are delighted to have her post with us today.
For nearly half a century beginning in 1947, the LDS Church ran a foster program called the Indian Student Placement Program. At the Church’s encouragement and with parental permission, the program removed Latter-day Saint Native American children from their homes on reservations or reserves in the United States and Canada. These children were placed with white LDS families for ten months of each school year and returned to live with their own families for two months every summer. The program’s goals were to provide better educational opportunities for the children while immersing them in white and Mormon culture. 
A 1978 Church pamphlet about the placement program opens with a 1941 quotation from historian Kenneth Scott La Tourette: “[Native Americans are] a race in process of being engulfed in an irresistible flood of peoples of utterly different culture. Dislocated from their accustomed seats, transplanted again and again, . . . at times demoralized by an excess of well intentioned but ill directed paternalistic kindness, it is a wonder that the Indians [have] survived.”
Ironically, beginning with the next paragraph, in a tone of “well intentioned” and “paternalistic kindness,” the pamphlet goes on to explain how the Indian Student Placement Program benefits Latter-day Saint Indian children by dislocating them from their accustomed homes, transplanting them into white LDS families, and engulfing them in an “utterly different culture.”
The program was largely the brainchild of Spencer W. Kimball. Growing up in the early twentieth century in the southeastern Arizona town of Thatcher, Kimball frequently interacted with local American Indians. He developed a compassion for indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere and an understanding of their history of exploitation, destruction, and loss at the hands of European expansionists. The white man, he taught, “took near everything takeable—the lands, the water, the mountains, the rivers, the buffalo and the fish, and the homeland and security,” while indigenous peoples “received near nothing of that which had been theirs from the first—limited reservations, mostly lands considered to be ‘bad lands’.”
Yet Kimball’s thought also reflected other ideologies of his time and religion, including social Darwinism, paternalism, and progressivism. Referring to indigenous peoples with a Book of Mormon term, Kimball professed that “the Lamanites” had forgotten their Christian God, “lost their written language and culture, and degenerated until they were no match for the wily and subtle Europeans.” Now, he said, “We have a debt to pay . . . and we shall never have liquidated that debt until we shall have done all in our power to rebuild the Indian and give him back the opportunities that are possible for us to give him.” Kimball metaphorically compared Indians to an engineless glider plane. “The glider would remain on the ground until it rotted unless some power lifted it,” he said. “Th[is] sail plane is the Indian. The tow line is the Indian Program and the gospel of Christ. We are the power plane and must do the lifting.”
Kimball was appointed chair of the Church’s Indian Committee when he became an LDS apostle in 1943. The Indian Committee implemented the Indian seminary program, Brigham Young University’s Indian education and services programs, and the Indian Student Placement Program. After beginning the placement program in Utah, Arizona, and Idaho, the Indian Committee expanded the program to Western Canada through my grandfather, J. Talmage Jones.
A native of Thatcher, Arizona, and a longtime friend of Kimball’s, Jones was set apart by Kimball as president of the Western Canadian Mission in 1964. Shortly after grandpa’s arrival in the mission’s headquarters in Calgary, Kimball directed him to start missionary work among Alberta and Saskatchewan’s approximate 45,000 Indians, mostly Blackfoot and Cree in Alberta and Sioux in Saskatchewan. Jones’s writings also reflect the paternalistic racism and progressivism that existed in American and Mormon thought. “Our Church has a program of teaching the Indian to do his own work and emphasizing his dignity,” he wrote in early 1965. “In the States our work is effective with the young Indian and it is with this group we will spend most of our efforts” in Canada. “Our church program encourages . . . integrating them into public schools, church and every other phase of our life. One only needs to spend a couple of hours on the reserves to see why it is necessary to move the children from their native environment. Just as in the U.S. the morality of the Indian is deplorable from Christian standards. Alcoholism is also a curse and between the two it is possible to persuade only a few to study the gospel.”
Behind the placement program was the administrators’ belief that Indian children had to be removed from their homes to improve the quality of their lives, along with the assumption that life for these children would be better if they lived with white LDS families. A major indicator of the underlying racism is the fact that Church leadership did not encourage the removal from their homes of children of other backgrounds in North America whose families similarly struggled with problems like alcoholism, poverty, lack of educational opportunity, or difficulty in navigating a different, dominant culture.
At its height in the 1970s, the Indian Student Placement Program reached an annual enrollment in North America of some 5,000 students before it gradually declined and finally ended in 1996. “The experiment tried to acculturate and assimilate Native American children through white family contexts,” wrote researcher Lynette Riggs. “They were to learn from white parent role models and implement these understandings when the time came for them to form their own families. When the students left the program, many found ways to integrate and combine some white customs and values with their own Native American points of reference.” Most, however, did not remain affiliated with the LDS Church.
Recently I met a man of the Siksika (Blackfoot) Nation who grew up participating in the placement program in Alberta as a result of my grandfather’s efforts. When I asked for his perspective, he answered that “the program was a success for some people, and a failure for others. It was good for me in some ways, but failed me in others.” While the placement program freed him from the alcoholism and poverty in his home, he was exposed to alcohol abuse again through one of the teenaged sons of his foster family. While my acquaintance and most of his siblings gained a good education and broke out of a cycle of poverty, they lost their familial closeness with each other because they did not grow up in the same household. While my friend became a leader in the Siksika and LDS communities, he had a difficult time learning how to form strong relationships with those closest to him—his wife and his children. Now that he is a parent himself, he feels anguish knowing his parents did not have the opportunity to raise their own children.
I know historians aren’t supposed to ask “what if,” but perhaps because of my familial tie to the Indian Student Placement Program, I can’t help but wonder. What might have been if Church leadership, rather than removing Indian children from their homes over a period of half a century, had instead encouraged similar investment in providing social services, increasing educational opportunity, and sharing gospel principles while these children grew up in their own homes?
 Lynette A. Riggs, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Indian Student Placement Service: A History” (2008). All Graduate Theses and Dissertations, Paper 92. Accessed at http://digitalcommons.usu.etd/92.
 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Indian Student Placement Service,” pamphlet, 1978, LDS Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.
 Riggs, 79; Elder Spencer W. Kimball, “The Lamanite and the Gospel,” BYU Education Week General Assembly Address, June 13, 1969, 4-5, LDS Church History Library.
 Kimball, “The Lamanite and the Gospel,” 7-8.
 Riggs, 79.
 J. Talmage Jones to Friends, March 20, 1965, original in author’s possession.
 Riggs, 32.
 Field notes of phone interview, June 2012, in author’s possession.