Reconciling the Indian Placement Program

This post comes from BCC Guest mmiles.

I was sixteen when Mr. Zeeman assigned our journalism class to interview another student. “Lisa” was in the class with me, and I could interview her while we waited our turn in typing class.   Lisa was “on placement.” She was from an Indian reservation and was assigned to live with a foster family for the school year. She had been a participant for a few years already. “We all wanted to go,” she said, “but we had to join the church.”

“You had to?” She looked down and then to the side. We both talked a little quieter, shifting in our red metal chairs.

“I joined to come. I didn’t want to join.”  The electronic typewriters drowned out her words.  Whether or not it was ever official church policy to only allow baptized members to participate in the Indian Placement Program[1] is unclear. At the very least it was the perception of Native Americans and the standard practice of some Mormon proselytizing missionaries. Some Native Americans claim the US government policy was that children first become members. It is possible that in order to appease critics,  government officials adopted the policy,  reasoning that if children were already Mormon, cultural purists could not complain that being in white homes caused a change in religion.[2]

My friend “Jenny’s” mother tells of living under the cliché of alcohol induced violence by her father.  The sweaty hands of her mother and sister would grasp her own as they fled to the fields behind their house. They fell on their knees and prayed under the brilliant Arizona sun that someone would lift them out of this place, carrying them away from the endless hell in which they groveled. She was sure as a little girl decades ago that the Placement Program was an answer to their prayers. She is still sure today as she speaks freely about her life on the Gila River Reservation.

The Indian Placement Program makes us as Mormons uncomfortable. We don’t like the truth that we took children away from their homes to assimilate them into wider (Mormon) culture. But we also don’t like the reality that it may have been the best way to help, that the problems on reservations we tried to help children escape were very real. The most uncomfortable truth may be that despite our efforts, misguided or not, some of the most egregious social ills very much still exist on reservations several decades later. As Mormons, this is disappointing if we are waiting for a glorious rise of native peoples to take their place as a chosen people of God. This idea is hardest for Native American Mormons who continue to feel the pressure to prove their worthiness to a largely white body of the church.

Mormon Native Americans feel forced to walk a fine line. As ‘Lamanites’, or as ‘Children of Father Lehi’,  they have been characterized as special–with special promised blessings, even chosen to fulfill prophecies. As such, active members are hesitant to recount traumatic memories of being torn from their parents while very young. They are hesitant to tell stories about terrible homesickness, mistreatment by foster families, or feeling lost in a white world. They don’t want to be seen as disloyal to the church that pulled them up and out of sometimes worse situations. They don’t want to lose promised blessings.

On the other hand, feelings of loyalty to tribal members often keep Native American members from expressing the severity of the hardships that are often part of reservation life. Social problems of poverty like alcoholism, teen pregnancy, child and spousal abuse, poor healthcare and lack of educational opportunities are treated like tribal secrets, locked away in closets.  Expressing too much gratitude to the IPP betrays native cultural identities and can cause friction between even brothers and sisters who participated in the placement program, but had starkly different experiences.

It is under this dichotomy that much research has been done to examine outcomes of the IPP. Ultimately researchers have looked to answer the question: Did the church’s Indian Placement Program do more harm or good? Looking for definitive answers by qualifying and quantifying the human experience discounts both the legitimate pain and authentic joy placement students experienced. It places them into one of two categories:  A. Had a bad experience—poor outcome or B. Had a good experience—good outcome. This kind of research leaves no room for ambiguity and nuance. In this way former students in the program are backed into a corner–not given the chance to interpret their own experiences, and essentially asked not to reconcile them.

In 1991 historian Tona Hangen traveled to the Navajo reservation in Arizona to collect oral histories of those who participated in the program. She writes, “I ended my study painfully aware of the ambiguities: the depth of bitterness and of gratitude participants harbored…Upon deeper consideration, however, I realized that the lack of cohesiveness is the thing to be learned from aggregating individual accounts…[3]

Native Americans are culturally natural storytellers. They tell stories as a way to frame and reframe the happenings in their lives. Allowing foster children of the IPP to tell their stories–the good, the bad, the holy and unholy without judgment and hypothesis would allow them to heal in their communities and families, and hopefully within the church. It would validate not only their humanity, but our own, recognizing the complexity of human relationships. It is the responsibility of researchers to sometimes simply tell the story, or let the story be told.

[1] A brief history of the program can be found here.
[2] For more see here.
[3] Dialogue.  Hangen, Tona. A Place to Call Home: Studying the Indian Placement Program. March 1997. Pg 16.


  1. Wow.

  2. Bruce Rogers says:

    Unfortunately, as the saying goes, “No good deed goes unpunished.” While many Navahos supported the program, a few selfish people made it very unpleasant for those supporters. Will the descendants of those distractors be as proud of their parents as are the descendants of the parents who supported the program? No, because they will see how selfish the non-supporters were. It is not “white” vs “indian”. It is helpfulness vs selfishness. Those educated indians will have the opportunity to be of help to the rising generation by setting a good example of how education helps us. They will be able to carry out the words of the motto of BYU. “enter to learn, go forth to serve.”

  3. 18 years ago my wife and I were surprised to be asked to take in an Indian Placement student. We thought the program was pretty much dead by then. It was a complex, challenging experience for us, and I’m sure for Shirley (not her real name), a sophomore in high school that year. She had been in the placement program for several years, and been with several different families. Not two weeks after she arrived, we got a call from her brother that her grandfather had been murdered, and we took her back to Arizona for the funeral. In the process, we met her mother and several siblings, including two other sisters, both unmarried with small children, and only a couple of years older than Shirley.

    The overwhelming sense of poverty and hopelessness was pretty evident for these family members. One brother and one sister through the IPP had actually found their way off the reservation and into good educations and promising careers. For all we could see that would not be possible for Shirley if she stayed on the reservation. She had essentially lived away from home for 9 months of the year for pretty much all of her school years, and really seemed to be not fitting in well with her own family, and not bonding in ours.

    A job move from Utah to Seattle the next summer brought our time in the program to an end, and Shirley was sent to another home for the next two years. She graduated from high school, got a little extra vocational training, married, and started a family. Last word we had from her is that she was out of the alcohol and poverty ridden circumstances of her birth family, but really without much real context for her native culture.

    Her experience certainly produced some positives, but she seemed to know less about her Navajo heritage than even what our orientation literature had told us as foster parents. I don’t think she ever felt much at home anywhere until she married and had her own home.

    The polarizing survey results you mention in the OP do seem to leave out a lot of subtlety about the program and how successful it really was for the participants. Shirley seemed sincere in her commitment to the church, but not in the same way that we felt it in our family. I hope we helped; I like to think we did. We really felt very unprepared as foster parents to take on this responsibility, and the quality of the support to us as parents seemed lackluster at best. Our contact at the IPP, when informed of the murder of Shirley’s grandfather, was not convinced it was a good idea to let her go back to the funeral, and no financial help was offered to get here there. That was not an issue to us, and we gladly drove her down to Arizona, as we felt it was important. I think even by then, the IPP staff could sense the unraveling of the program even as they still were trying to place students.

    It remains a very frustrating experience for us as a family, and a mixed experience for Shirley.

  4. Wow, indeed. My family was very involved in the IPP. We had Navajo kids living with us from when I was in 5th grade until I returned from my mission. One “brother,” who lived with us for 2 years, has never contacted us since. Another “brother” we’ve heard from only a small handful of times. The other 3 (1 girl, 2 boys) have kept in contact with my family for many years – and are grateful for the experience they had living with my family. I guess you could say the experience was a mixture of blessings and challenges for all involved.

  5. Bruce Rogers,
    It is unfair to characterize one group as selfish. There are not just two sides. Your comment as polarizing.

    When we use the language “success” and “failure”–we are still categorizing peoples experiences based upon our own expectations of we want from them, not what they wanted for themselves.

  6. Such a nice write-up of such a complex program. I have always had a pretty negative perception of the IPP, but a few years ago a young man who was Navajo and serving a mission in our area talked about his parent’s involvement (having been fostered out) and identified the program as a blessing in their families. I’m glad it worked for some people.

  7. All,
    I am hoping the discussion will yield ideas for a better research approach. There are currently at least two researchers–one at ASU and one at BYU who are studying the IPP. It doesn’t bode well that one researcher’s ad to find subjects said, “Looking for people with strong feelings about the IPP”–
    I fully expect there to be research papers on this at next year’s MHA.

  8. Bruce Rogers says:

    #5. Yes, they are always two sides to every question. We have a hymn that talks about that, “Choose the Right”. In the pre-existence there were two sides. So we have to decide which side we will support. I want to support the side that will be a blessing to others. The Indian Program was designed to be a blessing. Many people supported it to make it a blessing for others. But the opponents were not trying to make it a better program. Just read what those who benefited from it said about it and decide for yourself how you want to act.

  9. mmiles, I think that my wording might possibly be misunderstood. I’m not sure how to define “success”, and I don’t think our experience with our foster daughter could be termed either a success or a failure, any more than we can use that binary to categorize the program overall.

    In my experience, the goals of the program were all about breaking the cultural chain of the reservation life and assimilating the students into the Wasatch Front life of the average Mormon, whatever that is. That’s not exactly what the published literature we got from IPP said, but it was obvious in the context of how the program was administered.

    As you indicate, a more subtle and less polemic approach to studies of the program would be helpful.

  10. mmiles, one more comment. If someone had asked Shirley what she wanted, which we did in various subtle ways, was to eat well, live securely, and have nice things. These are obviously immature perspectives, and hers certainly changed in the years after high school. As she grew older, from what limited contact we’ve had, it appears that she added a few more mature objectives to that list, but she did not want to go back to the life she had in the summers on the reservation with her mother and her sisters. Certainly, some things were lost, while others were gained.

  11. Mark Brown says:

    Bruce Rogers,

    Seriously? Opposition to the IPP is like choosing Satan’s side in the pre-mortal life?

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    Some bibliography for anyone interested (including Tona’s piece):

    Bruce A. Chadwick, Stan L. Albrecht and Howard M. Bahr, “Evaluation of an Indian Student Placement Program,” Social Casework 67/9 (1986): 515-24; Bruce A. Chadwick and Stan L. Albrecht, “Mormons and Indians: Beliefs, Policies, Programs and Practices,” in Contemporary Mormonism: Social Science Perspectives, ed. Tim B. Heaton and Lawrence A. Young (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 287-309; Tona J. Hangen, “A Place to Call Home: Studying the Indian Placement Program,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 30/1 (Spring 1997): 53-69; and James B. Allen, “The Rise and Decline of the LDS Indian Student Placement Program, 1947-1996,” Mormons, Scripture, and the Ancient World: Studies in Honor of John L. Sorenson, ed. Davis Bitton (Provo: FARMS, 1998), 85-119.

  13. It seems #2/#8 Bruce speaks to the positive intent of the program. Whether all participants found the “blessing” is another matter.

    Not clear how one would have assessed the wants of the children in the program: most parents would assume they know better than their small children what is best for them.

    Clearly a research design that allows for more than just a straight thumbs up or thumbs down approach would be most beneficial.

  14. KB,
    Thanks. there is also this:

    Adults can look back and say quite well whether it was good for them to be in the program or not.

    It is unfair to expect everyone to see the same things we do and call them “blessings”.

    I believe the intent was good–but that’s not really the point. We need to talk about the IPP in a different way. We need to quit trying to defend it. We aren’t going to do it again–so asking whether or not it was a success is pointless (besides the fact that our definitions of success where people are concerned really make me uncomfortable–and should make you uncomfortable too). People need space to tell their own stories, to be heard. Accusing people of not finding the blessings and being selfish is not only a untrue characterization of them as people, but also unhelpful.

  15. Bruce Rogers, you are treading on border of troll-land. Watch your step.

  16. The Indian Placement Program makes us as Mormons uncomfortable.


    We have several dozen members of our immediate and extended families, and many more acquaintances who participated in the Indian Placement Program and the tone of the OP just doesn’t ring true.

    Of course it was a difficult to choice to leave families, but the Placement Program was/is hardly the epitome of tensions between traditional life and the surrounding American culture. Every single Native person has to deal with that, in looms large in every major life choice. The Placement Program is an easy target because it is such a discrete example, but to say it was a source of harm is a little harder to defend. The program was voluntary and in many cases the only alternative to BIA boarding schools which were not exactly bastions of cultural maintenance or love and affection.

    But really, how many post in the Bloggenacle have started with “I remember this Navajo kid who lived with us/was at my high school for a few years and then he died from alcoholism?” Spend a little time on the Rez and you will have no problem collecting evidence of positive impacts in the lives of many individuals and families. I think you might also be surprised how much choice the Native kids had to return or not each successive year.

  17. Interestingly too, the next Navajo Nation Vice President will mostly likely be a member of the Church.

  18. MAC,
    Obviously, it doesn’t make everyone uncomfortable.

    This post is not to say it was bad–I don’t know how to underscore that more. But let’s try and wrap our heads around the idea that it wasn’t all good. A person can have been pulled out of boarding school, gone on placement, gone on a mission, gone to BYU, married in the temple–and still have experienced mistreatment from a foster family, suffered terrible homesickness and depression, and have terrible rifts within their birth family because of placement.

    All I’m proposing is a truthful approach. There are enough critics who want to claim it did irreparable harm, and enough defenders who see it as a panacea. It was neither.

  19. Excellent post. It is in the telling of the stories, not in the checking of boxes on surveys and questionnaires, that the truth of the experiences will come. Good or Bad, Success or Failure are too sterile and unforgiving to be able to capture the world that lies in between. Stories are what give context and understanding. I think if we work from a place of trying to understand the intricacies of the stories first we will be able to find more appropriate parameters for understanding the benefits, costs, and overall impact of the program. There is no benefit to putting a stamp of good or bad on the program itself at this point. Hopefully what we can come away with is valuable insight that gives us better understanding of what it means to help, lift, educate, bless in the context of retaining cultural integrity. It’s a lesson we need to understand globally.

  20. All I’m proposing is a truthful approach. There are enough critics who want to claim it did irreparable harm, and enough defenders who see it as a panacea. It was neither.

    I agree that it was neither irreparable harmful nor a panacea. What is frustrating is that there are just too many approaches, truthful or otherwise, that are just not Native.

    In so many of these discussions there are people who want to tell both sides of the story. To try and co-op the narrative is no less culturally insensitive than packing up a kid and shipping them off to school in Provo.

  21. MAC-
    I don’t see anyone trying to co-op the narrative. In the OP I make it clear the stories simply need to be told from the person who lived it without needless interpretation to satisfy research claims.
    I’m not sure what you mean by having an approach that is truthful and yet not Native. Are you Native American?

  22. MAC, “pockycock” is not a word. I think you mean “poppycock”. Since the rest of your argument hinges on this initial premise, your argument fails.

  23. John Mansfield says:

    I find it useful to compare IPP with the experience of Harry Reid as a teenager. To attend high school, he left dead-end Searchlight and boarded with his uncle, met the boxing coach who he would serve with fifteen years later as governor and lieutenant governor, got invited to and started attending seminary. He recalls it as a time that changed his life. It was the kind of step many rural youth had to take decades ago.

    Boarding with relatives would be preferable to a foster program, but in a setting where that where relatives in town were systematically unavailable, something to initiate educational development seems worth having done.

  24. I say poppycock II.

    I had experience both as a child and as an adult with the IPP and that doesn’t mean what I can tell from experience about it means a whit. Obviously I can’t speak for the ‘placees’ nor their families. I can’t speak for my deceased parents either, but by the time I was a host parent it wasn’t a matter of opting in without being invited, so there was some quality control performed and though to err is human for bishops too I do believe it is less than for the rest of us and he would have had reason to be more in the know about those chosen. Any problems I saw with the program were due to the participants earthly frailties, child and adult, which would not be overridden just because Kimball was truly inspired and knew what he was doing. Which he was. IM(less than)HO.

  25. Gwenydd McCoy says:

    “Native Americans are culturally natural storytellers”…what does that mean?

  26. #24,
    Your comment is ironic in light of this post.

    Because Native American languages are traditionally not written languages, they tell stories. From creation myths to elaborate constellation myths, to stories about Coyote (adopted by the BSA), to genealogy and the way the world is interpreted, is all through storytelling.

  27. #25–
    and you’re not fooling anybody.

  28. mmiles,

    Good to see a fellow VHS alum here.

    I wish I knew more about the program. My mother’s family hosted a pair of sisters. My understanding is that they had different experiences, one coming back year after year while the other stopped after a few years.

    Both stayed in contact sporadically with my grandparents. I was surprised and touched to be able to meet them at my grandmother’s funeral.

    My impression is that everyone involved went in with good intentions, but it isn’t clear to me whether the program did more harm than good.

  29. For nearly half of my mission I served as an Indian missionary in Denver, Co. in 1969 and 1970. It was the first attempt, so we were told, of the Church reaching out to Indians in an urban setting. I wrote a letter to the mission president and asked to be part of it. He somehow saw fit to call me to that assignment. We did not use the 6 memorized ‘Brother Brown’ lessons but used lessons contained in flip charts. We were to rely on the spirit to tell us what to say. Our area was just about anywhere from Littleton to Arvada.

    Though I’ve never been on a reservation, I imagine the conditions in Denver were somewhat better, but not by much. We found our contacts in public housing, tenements and single room occupancy buildings. Alcoholism was a way of life. We had to work with our contacts a long time to gain their confidence before teaching them.

    We had one older Souix woman who we worked with for months. She had some health problems but was very interested in the Book of Mormon. My companion and I would visit her 3 or 4 times a week and we read the whole Book of Mormon to her. A few months after I was sent on to teach the more typical suburban type converts, she was baptized.

    I can say from my experience it was the policy of the Church at that time that only members were allowed to participate in the IPP. We were told that were not to use the Placement Program as a ‘sales’ tool. (The church leaders didn’t call it sales tool. I just can’t think how else to describe it right now.)

    We taught a Navajo mother and her teen daughter in a Chicago style two story housing project on the south side of Denver. The mother knew about the program and insisted that we promise her that her daughter could be placed if she was baptized. The daughter was sincere and we believed wanted to join the church by her choice. We visited often and we could not get the mother to change her position. We both thought it odd that the mother would want her daughter to be a member of the church but claimed no interest for herself.

    Then at one of our visits, my companion told the mother she would be placed if the daughter was baptized. I almost passed out from the shock. But I didn’t exactly feel it was wrong either, based on the sincere desire of the daughter.

    After the baptism and a few weeks after the placement of daughter in the program, we later found out that the mother was a member of the church. The baptism and placement generated the mother’s previously lost membership record and it was sent to the local ward. A dichotomy, indeed.

    We met another sweet Navajo girl at the Denver Institute who participated in the IPP in high school. I would never have guessed that she once lived in an abandoned car somewhere in Arizona.

    I’m not writing to defend or criticize the program. Just somethings I saw for a brief time. I can only hope the for the positive.

    I apologize for the length.

  30. Thank you for this post. I was unaware of this program.

  31. 18, “A person can have been pulled out of boarding school, gone on placement, gone on a mission, gone to BYU, married in the temple–and still have experienced mistreatment from a foster family, suffered terrible homesickness and depression, and have terrible rifts within their birth family because of placement. ”

    This statement really made me think about a life, as we see it according to the plan of salvation. Let me restate the above. A person can have been pulled out of heaven, born into a corrupt dying body, raised by two imperfect parents, instead of the perfect ones they left in heaven, suffered terrible depression disease, sickness, pain, heart ache, with some occasional joy, happiness and educational experiences in between.

    I think the push/pull between what B.Rogers up above is saying rather too bluntly and what the author is saying is one is desiring to filter the viewpoint solely through a gospel perspective while the other is taking a more nuanced, balanced, but worldly analytical approach. Not using worldly in a bad way, as I prefer the worldly, generally accepted principles of accounting as opposed to the Moroni-method of accounting (Ask God if these balance sheets are not true with a sincere heart).

    But thinking about our purposes here in life, the good and bad we go through in order to achieve an ultimate better is the best perspective. Of course, that doesn’t give us license to create our own plans of salvation for others and make them jump through trials of our own making. On the other hand, if you signed up for this, volunteered to do it and could pull out at anytime, I really don’t see what the fuss is about (unless it’s to find ways to improve foster-type programs like this). Might as well complain that life is not a rose garden.

  32. John Mansfield says:

    Besides Harry Reid, who I mentioned above, Chase Peterson, former U. of Utah president comes to mind. He left home to board at a prep school in Massachussetts when he was 15. There was a time when sending children away to school was considered a high-class thing worthy of emulation by those who could access such advantages. (Think of John Kennedy or George H. W. Bush each leaving home when they were 13.)

    My point is that I hope anyone trying to understand the LDS Indian Placement Program will think about the background educational concepts of the time as they try to place LDS and Indian religion and culture into the mix.

  33. I am just restating what Natalie said in 30, but I hadn’t heard of this program either and reading the post and comments was very interesting. Thank you.

  34. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    I had a chance to live and work on a reservation for a good amount of time and attended the LDS branch there. I find the idea of requiring baptism for participation troubling. Nevertheless, for those who participated but never did have a spiritual experience or commit, it seems like they considered their experience much like that of a foreign exchange student. Many foreign exchange students attend church with their host families out of respect and as part of their interesting in learning more about the culture they are in. This seemed to be the attitude that they came away with, even though someone will ultimately be responsible for the covenants they made without following their agency.

    I met several Native men while I was stitching up lacerations in the middle of the night who, without knowing that I was LDS, proceeded to tell me about their placement experience as a youth. I didn’t probe, but what they were willing to volunteer was not resentful, with the exception of someone that had suffered physical abuse. I watched one faithful member, who would be considered a success of the program in that she got a college education and returned to her home to work, go through a tragic loss of a child. Her experience and subsequent activity in the church was the overwhelming coping mechanism for her to go on. Her foster parents provided emotional support to her over the long months of the childs illness and came to the funeral.

    As to accusations that “John Doe” has abandoned his heritage, there are frequent tendencies to throw that on someone, even without the IPP factor. Going to college, for instance, is still looked at by some as “trying to be white”. One grandmother told me she was criticized for her attention to her grandchildren’s cleanliness and grooming because she was “trying to be white”. Many men seemed to view occupations that require education as feminine. At the hospital, it was cool for men to be security guards or environmental services. Men who were nurses, medical assistants, or business office workers were viewed as suspected gays. Gay native men were, in fact, largely the only Native men who worked in those jobs at that time.

    The high school on the reservation was an environment that was extremely difficult for LDS students to adhere to standards. More than one parent commented that they wished they could get their kids off the reservation and away from the moral challenges that could seem so overwhelming at the school. It was even voiced by a couple of LDS people that they wished the church still had the placement program to help them in this struggle.

  35. I remember the Indians on Placement back in school. It wasn’t worth it. If it was such a great program why did it get terminated? I don’t think it had much to do with cultural sensitivity issues. Far more than emotional damage was done. Maybe I saw only “bad apples” but here is a summary of what I saw happening:

    1. Bishop with 11 children (including future in-law). Indian girl about age 14 starts sleeping with 2 “brothers” of similar age. They are encouraged by the Indian girl to commit incest with their 3 younger sisters. This goes on for years until one gets pregnant and has an abortion. Lots of therapy and drauma and many lives are ruined to various degrees.

    2. An aunt with 2 children, girl age 16 and boy age 14.
    Their Indian boy has a severe anger problem. He beats the heck out of the 14 year old boy multiple times and is an even match with the 16 year old girl. But they are patient. The second year he has grown and fights my uncle to a draw and tears their house apart in the process. They send him back.

    3. Neighbors with 4 daughters. Their Indian girl is the same age (around 15) as their oldest daughter. Oldest daughter is going through a slutty stage to put it mildly. Hard to say who has the worst influence on who. When it is only one girl, she is just sneaking around. With two then more, it is flagrant, open season. The negative example of these two girls influences 3 younger siblings and many other girls in the ward to make similar choices.

    4. Friend on the Jr High School track team. Larry feels like he has to win every race because people expect Indians to be great runners. I reach out to him and we become friends. I out run him every day, no mercy, which oddly takes the pressure off and wins his respect. The next year he is in turmoil inside. He eventually tells me he feels awful because he and his brothers and uncles all gang-raped his 12 year old little sister when she had her first period. He had always been her protector and she trusted him. But not any more. He claims it is part of their ancient ways.

    5. Member of the Bishopric. Everything with their Indian Boy works out great all the way through high school. In college the Indian gets kicked out of BYU and becomes a party animal. One night he returns to his host family home and robs them at gun point. He is never arrested and they fear he will come back.

    6. Another ward member. They seem to be doing well with their Indian boy until his senior year when he gets arrested for using drugs. Later that year while holding up a gas station in Wyoming he shoots a police officer in the leg. An attorney in our ward offers to represent him pro bono. The Indian boy spits in his face when the attorney visits him in jail and ends up with a long prison sentence.

    7. PE class in the 8th grade. A big 6 ft tall Indian boy probably older than 16 years, but kept back for poor academic performance, picks a fight with the meanest white kid in the school. He isn’t nearly as big, but he is strong and quick and his dad was a professional boxer. The Indian boy is losing badly, blood running down his face, but his pride won’t let him quit. We Mormon boys usually don’t get adults involved, preferring to settled conflicts by ourselves. We have unwritten rules when to fight and when to stop, and the Indian boy doesn’t know them. We go get the coach because it becomes obvious that they are not going to stop until one of them is dead, most likely the Indian. He is never seen at school again.

  36. Real balanced view Mike. The program was terminated as local education improved.

  37. Mike,

    Thank you for perfectly demonstrating the point I made in comment 16.

    If you read the referenced article, the Placement Program continued for 49 years and annual participation peaked at 4,997 participants. It is safe to assume 10’s of thousands of participants. Anyone can take a population at large and come up with seven nasty anecdotes.

    Heck, I bet you could take any lily-white, British/Scandinavian-descent-heavy Stake in Utah and find seven nasty anecdotes over a period of 5 decades. Are you keeping track of those too?

  38. Rigel Hawthorne says:


    4 plus kids who have theoretically been taught correct principle by their parents/church leaders their whole lives go off in extreme directions… it’s awfully easy to point the finger at the outsider as the cause of all those ruined lives. It’s one thing for children to keep those secrets because they are fearful of authority figures, but why would they fear reporting this influence to their mother?

    I would counter that many Native children on placement probably suffered stricter and more physical discipline from foster parents than was given to the biologic children for the same offense.

    I can also think quickly 4 anecdotal interactions with IPP children where they participated in roadshows, MIA activities, extra-curricular school activities and added an enjoyable diversity of personality to all of the settings.

  39. mmiles,

    In the OP I make it clear the stories simply need to be told from the person who lived it without needless interpretation to satisfy research claims.

    I agree with the intention, but the tone of OP (IMO) really undermines this idea.  In other words, I like what you’re saying, but how you are saying it is driving me nuts.

    To use the word “reconcile” in the title and to still have so little native voice? and what voice there is is second hand (MY classmate and MY friend). Tona Hangen does it also “*I* ended my study painfully aware of the ambiguities:” and her title, referring back to HER “studying.” To be hyperbolic, sounds to me like the authors are reconciling nothing more than their own feelings about the Placement Program.

    Some of the statements are just off, others are bordering on paternalistic.

    “This idea is hardest for Native American Mormons who continue to feel the pressure to prove their worthiness to a largely white body of the church.”

    “Mormon Native Americans feel forced to walk a fine line.”

    Really, ALL of them are challenged this way?

    “They are hesitant to tell stories about terrible homesickness, mistreatment by foster families, or feeling lost in a white world.”

    In my experience, as a general statement this is inaccurate. You are talking about a group that includes Lumbee who were sent to LDS homes in Georgia, Ojibwe who were sent to LDS homes in Oklahoma, Cheyenne who were sent to LDS homes in Seattle, the list goes on. I would also bet that it wouldn’t take 5 minutes at the ward house in Chinle, of Kayenta or Teec Nos Pos to find more people willing to discuss their feelings, good and bad, about their experiences in the Placement Program than you could shake a stick at.

    “Expressing too much gratitude to the IPP betrays native cultural identities”

    Again, says who? This is a universal sentiment among those who participated?

    “Allowing foster children of the IPP to tell their stories–the good, the bad, the holy and unholy without judgment and hypothesis would allow them to heal in their communities and families, and hopefully within the church.”

    Who is doing this “allowing?” Shouldn’t participants decide on their own whether and how to reconcile their experience, positive or negative?

    It would validate not only their humanity

    Who are you to validate my humanity or anyone else’s for that matter?

    I’m not sure what you mean by having an approach that is truthful and yet not Native

    It is an attempt to restate the idea in the last sentence of the original post. A project could solicit any number of replies that are factually accurate but aren’t at all what the participant wants to express about their experience.

    IMO, the largest obstacle to a reconciliation is the manifestly stupid conventional wisdom, in Happy Valley outside of Indian Country, amongst those with tangential exposure to the Placement Program. Example: Comment 35.

  40. MAC,
    I’m not trying to tell anyone’s story. I’m simply saying they need to be told. All the research I’ve read draws lines in the sand without allowing for the experience to be good and bad at the same time for each individual. Success has been defined by researchers and white people who participated in the programs. It is very telling that this thread has been dominated by defenders of the IPP (when the OP didn’t attack it) who are not Native American.

    I apologize that I didn’t use enough qualifiers and say “some people” every time I mentioned people at all.

    I see your experience has been different than mine. But I think you are failing to see your bias, you stll come at it from an angle of family who participated as white families (my guess since you failed to answer when I asked you if you were Native American). The people I’ve spoken with are afraid to tell both sides of their own story for the reasons I explained in the OP. This is especially true when they love their foster families because they don’t want to make them feel bad by explaining to them that no matter how good it was, in some ways, it still sucked.

  41. and again, factually accurate information in studies that only generate what the researcher wants to hear are by and large useless. If you can find some use for any of the studies generated so far on the IPP that are actually helpful in some meaningful way, I’m all ears.

  42. Interesting post. I have a cousin who was “adopted” through the IPP in the 1970s and things turned out very well for her. I think she feels very connected to both her families and is glad she was able to leave the reserve. I have also heard of situations that went very badly.

    I’m not really qualified to comment on the program as a whole, but I did read these words on another blog today, the words of Aboriginal artist and activist Lilla Watson:

    “If you have come here to help me,
    you are wasting our time.
    If you have come here because your liberation is bound up with mine,
    then let us work together.”

  43. But I think you are failing to see your bias, you stll come at it from an angle of family who participated as white families


    I don’t deny a bias, but I only know a single Placement foster family. My exposure has been almost exclusively from the side of the placee (if that is a word).

    Success has been defined by researchers and white people who participated in the programs. It is very telling that this thread has been dominated by defenders of the IPP (when the OP didn’t attack it) who are not Native American.

    You’re co-mingling two different ideas. Is the program defensible or even laudable? Which in some ways can be appropriately quantified from a number of perspectives regardless of the background of the person making the assessment. Secondly how participants (and in this case, being Native is not sufficient, one must be both Native AND have been a participant or parent/child of a participant) choose to express or not express their feelings about the Placement program.

    Because so many of our family members went on Placement, the topic comes up frequently in discussions as we travel and relocate. My experience has been that there are that there are ~5 groups with very soft boundaries, Native-family-leaning-pro, Native-family-leaning-con, Host-family-leaning-pro, Host-family-leaning-con, and then the remainder of the membership who is aware of the program but has had no first person involvement.

    Unfortunately this last group seems to want to yell the loudest (particularly on Mormon blogs, but that is a self selected group of loudest yellers). Your problem seems to be with the group that blindly supports it out of misplaced and incurious loyalty to Church programs. My problem is with the stupidity at the other end of the spectrum , as so well demonstrated by comment 35.

    In essence we are saying very similar things, I just think you blew your argument with a bunch of silly, absolutist statements.

  44. MAC-
    Firstly, I didn’t mean to come across absolutest. I also did not mean to be pro/con anything. I don’t have a problem with some particular group, because I’m not putting people into categories as you have just done.

    Of course the program can be quantified regardless of the background of the person, but the question is Should it be? Why? Are we thinking of doing the program again? Of course not.

    It really isn’t mingling two different things. When we categorize people for the sake of the study and success in such biased ways, we cut of the humanity of the individual–and a person feels less free to speak about the whole experience, instead choosing the categories you described to explain his/her experience. This may not be the case with every person–true, but it is with some people. When it affects some people in this way, then shouldn’t we change something about our approach? Has the old approach been useful for participants in the program in describing their experience?

    I hate the term placee. Let’s call participants children–or adults who were children. Not something as inanimate as “placee”. Or participant–and least that word assumes action.

  45. mmiles,

    In your OP the paragraph that begins, “The Indian Placement Program makes us as Mormons uncomfortable” instructs me on the institutional guilt I should feel for a program that certainly exisited when I joined the church with my family in Pittsburgh, but one about which I knew nothing at the time.

    In your OP paragraph that begins, “Mormon Native Americans feel forced to walk a fine line” you detail how the subjects of the placement program feel.

    You make both general statements without evidence (except your own personal experience).

    I think you may be right: further study is warranted if only to test your hypotheses.

    To the extent that the purpose of the research is to test your hypotheses, then it seems there needs to be statistical analysis as well as narrative collection, else you could not make the broad statements you do.

    To the extent that the purpose of the research is to seek reconciliation (if it is, in fact required or desired), then story telling is clearly required, much as it was in Nelson Mandela’s efforts in South Africa.

  46. Paul,
    You are right, I use my own personal experience because that’s all I’ve got. And the stories I hold close that I’ve been told by those who experienced them are their stories. I don’t feel it is my place to tell them, even if it would be evidence on behalf of my argument. So really, I am just hoping they will tell them someday, and that there will be people who will listen without judgement.

  47. I, for one, would welcome a telling of the stories.

  48. MAC: You are right; that 7 bad apples doesn’t make or break the case. But just who are you calling stupid?

    I didn’t end the program, the church leaders did. Are you calling them stupid? I actually think we should not have ended it in spite of the problems, but rather tried to modify it and made it worth it. If we figured out how to lift the Indians out of the horrible conditions they live in, we might be in a better position to help our new members now joining in great numbers in places like Africa.

    “Local improved education” is why they ended it? Ha. Ha. Ha. What planet are you living on? Education in this country including rural Utah has gone steadily down the toilet since the 1960’s. Why do you think so many of our doctors and engineers don’t speak English any more? Too many kids graduating from high school today are so d****d stupid it makes your head spin. A few at the top are much smarter these days, but the middle of the class and down is not.

    Balanced or not, I remember all of the Indians that my extended family and neighbors took in and most of them in my ward for about a decade. I remember far less about the dozen or two in my school. Any unbalance in my observations was not my fault that it happened. About 98% of the time these 7 examples appeared to be doing just fine. On the surface. Someone else might have personal knowledge of a dozen real success stories. What does either prove?

    That we need to go from a qualitative impression based on intuition to a quantitive study and start counting specific events. Unless we all just want to forget about the entire unpleasant experience and learn nothing else from it. Mac says we had nearly 50 years with a peak year of nearly 5000 placement students. I guess that would indicate at least 125,000 placement students. Are there studies of them? I would think so. How many murders, suicides, fatal car wrecks, substance abuse, incarcerations, sexual activity, etc. How many now married in the temple, served missions, level of education, holding jobs.

    People are measuring these numbers in Indian populations and in the “lily white” population in general. The results for the Indians are not good and look far more like my 7 antedotes than yours. What remains is for us Mormons to look at our own programs and their results in a comprehensive and quantitive way.

    Cheap shot: [it was indeed a cheap shot. So cheap, in fact, that I’ve deleted it. Admin.]

  49. Mike,
    The program was modified over the years, and the program ended 7 years after Brother Lee was excommunicated.

    I think you have a valid point that maybe we can use our experiences working with Native Americans as a cross-cultural study as we work hard in other countries to improve living conditions.

  50. But just who are you calling stupid?

    You are right Mike. In the spirit of the original post, it is your prerogative to express your opinions and observations and not have someone else call them stupid. Take this one for example:

    If we figured out how to lift the Indians out of the horrible conditions they live in, we might be in a better position to help our new members now joining in great numbers in places like Africa.

    Maybe it is my horrible living conditions that cloud my charity and drive me to unjustified harshness. Please accept my *most* sincere apology. If I am ever in Africa, I will hope beyond hope that the Great Utahn will inspire me to throw aside my spear and eschew the in-humanizing cannibalism of my neighbors in favor of the soul lifting practices of elk hunting and the BYU football tortilla toss.

  51. “Local improved education” is why they ended it? Ha. Ha. Ha. What planet are you living on? Education in this country including rural Utah has gone steadily down the toilet since the 1960′s. Why do you think so many of our doctors and engineers don’t speak English any more? Too many kids graduating from high school today are so d****d stupid it makes your head spin. A few at the top are much smarter these days, but the middle of the class and down is not

    Wow… I don’t think I’ve seen such a ridiculous statement regarding my profession (and that of hundreds of thousands of others) in a long, long time. I particularly like how you link the supposed-decline of public education in America to the 1960s, just in time for the integration of our public schools and the Civil Rights Movement.

    Why do so many doctors and engineers come from outside the United States? Because the colleges and universities in America are ranked among the world’s best, and, after graduating, these doctors and engineers accept placements in American hospitals and engineering firms that are linked to the colleges and universities.

    Getting more to the OP, I think it is worth noting that many researchers are trying to collect the stories of Native Americans and publish them without any kind of bias or agenda. They simply feel the stories need to be told. I look forward to hearing the stories of those involved in the IPP.

  52. I’m curious: Has _anyone_ ever met a doctor, practicing medicine in the United States of America, who doesn’t speak English?

  53. 52 Count me as one vote for no.

    In fact, I’ve never met an engineer working in the USA that didn’t at least speak conversational English.

  54. 52 – Scott – I had to go to the Clinica for work once and yes, i met a person who purported to be a doctor that did not speak English. I did not ask for credentials.

  55. I understand that the Church is about to roll out the BCC Placement Program, in which BCC permabloggers are re-settled from their urban apartments to loving LDS tract homes in the suburbs of SLC, Denver, and Phoenix, where they can be shielded from the harmful environment of Sunstone, Dialogue, and NPR and introduced to the influence of Glenn Beck and Thomas Kinkade. This may also be controversial in time, but there is a consensus that something must be done.

  56. (55) gst – I have been struggling with Thomas Kinkade since my formative years. That’s as far back as I can recall. Its effects could have began even earlier. It’s a culture that is not easy to break free from.

  57. gst

    Unfamiliar to Church at large, there was a placement program for PermaBloggers, from all over the Bloggernacle. The program was commonly considered an abject failure. While their stories were collected, it was done with such bias that publication wasn’t possible, but here they are …

    Perma +ProgThnTutu returns from a charity vacation, teaching basic dental care in Phuket, to be placed with a orthodox LDS family in Safford. Robbed of the spiritual reinforcement of the annual Holi Festival at the Hari Krishna temple in Spanish Fork and unable to find a Quaker service, +PreThnTutu is left only with his newly acquired (since the ground zero mosque debacle) affinity for the beauty of Islamic doctrine. He recruits a distant relative of SWK to start a sexual/gender diversity student organization at EAU. He promptly gets heatstroke at Safford’s first annual pride event and collapses into a diversion canal. Rescuers find him after repeatedly dialing his cell phone and homing in the Vance Gilbert ringtone.

    Perma I*hrt*O, a recent Spanish Fork to Cambridge relo, is sent to Lovell, WY. She is accompanied by her loyally Democratic, second husband, who is co-parenting the child from her first BYU-arranged/forced-marriage gone bad (video games and porn, obviously). I*hrt*O offends her host family by putting up poster of Rachel Maddow looking way butch and Janeane Garafalo in her Mystery Men “The Bowler” costume. She further embarrasses them by pinning a gag birth certificate, stating that “George W. Bush was born in DumboStan” on the barterboard down at the IGA. Years later, in a downward spiral, rooted in the realization that she hates Wyomingites much, much more than they seem to hate black people.  I*hrt*O finally snaps after her daughter is caught, in the local library, stealing back issues of the National Review to read old Florence King columns.

    Perma MJM-Y leaves her not-more-than-900 sqft apartment in an open-space, mixed-used planning neighborhood of Seattle for her new McMansion home in Yorba Linda, CA. She is sure to pack her super-cute NO H8TE not-garment-friendly cami that gives her a special credibility amongst her fabulous circle of Quaker/Universalist friends, who BTW are so much cooler than her stodgy RS sisters. Her very first Sunday in her new ward she storms out of Sacrament meeting after hearing the announcement that the YW will be meeting Macy’s on Wednesday evening to get their “what’s my color palette?” evaluations. After just several weeks, she steals her host sister’s endometriosis treating birth control pills, replacing them with mini altoids, because at 36 and single celibacy is simply no longer reasonable. The resulting hormone reaction to induces unanticipated hair growth effectively taking her off the market. Homer nods.

    Perma AldoLeo’s pioneer spirit couldn’t drive him out of Cache Valley fast enough after his mission and he has finally settled into a rich, urbane life on the Upper West Side, nothing but fresh, authentically boiled bagels and concerts in the Park, because there is only one *Park*. Carefully packing his bike all the way to Cedar City, AldoLeo’s anti-driving crusade leaves him wishing his bike fender was wider so his many morally superior bumper stickers could preach LOUDER & LARGER! After carefully bookmarking the websites for Zabar’s and Balducci’ online stores, on a Mac of course, AldoLeo is excited to be in Southern Utah on the battle lines of the public land use debate! It doesn’t take long with his host family before the “Bobbit Babbit” vanity plate on their F-250 King Ranch forces him to flee the home. He rides to Zion’s National Park and the welcoming arms of a friendly tribe. Unfortunately his time away from his Riverside Dr. neighborhood has left him unhabituated to traffic and he is accidentally run down by a caravan of Subarus and FJ Cruisers with darwin fish on their bumpers. His host family hears back through friends that he was last seen on crutches at the Bishop’s storehouse in St. George screaming that “I told you already, these Deseret brand pinto beans are not slow food, not vegan, not organic and not RAW!”

    Perma Thoughtski is the only member of his extended family in Vernal to have voted for Nadar and has a secret crush on Maureen Dowd. After finishing his thesis on the Catholic oppression of Liberationist nuns in Nicaragua and developing a Maoist role playing game, Thoughtski is told by his parents that if he doesn’t go to stay with a Mormon family in Sugarland, TX that they won’t cosign any more student PLUS loans. He quickly slumps into a deep depression on the realization that, compared to his Xanax-dependance-inducing, bearing-the-weight-of-right-living, academic friends any Texan Republican is much more pleasant to be around and in practice they have many more minority friends, challenging his anyone-who-doesn’t-advocate-open-borders-are-racist-of-the-worse-kind meme. Suffering from low-grade PTSD for years, word finally gets back to his host family that, while collecting data on the health and social benefits of a involuntary reduced caloric intake in the Chavista barrios, he is kidnapped and bartered as a hostage to the FARC. While in captivity he misses a review meeting and is denied tenure. Years later he is reduced to working for Bill Ayers at a barely living wage, incorporating early Mormon collectivist ideas into teacher college curriculums.

    Perma ÜberSmarterThanAvgBear was the valedictorian of Emery High School and as a professor at U of U is still held up as an example to the incurious Castledaleites. Between posting photos of himself participating in sports that require him to wear spandex on his FB page, ÜSTA prepared for his placement experience by practicing not interrupting people to correct their grammar and learning colloquial usages like “you was.” Surprised to find himself placed with the family of Thoughtski in Vernal, ÜSTA carefully insinuates that even once Thoughtski got his PhD it is still from a lower ranked school than his own. It is unclear why or exactly how he is damaged by his experience, but the unwillingness of others to acknowledge his superior thought leads to a passive-aggressive personality disorder w/avoidant tendencies. Last news was that ÜSTA was using his faculty tuition waiver to take law classes at night in a vain attempt to add a few more letters to his nameplate.

    Perma NoMoMo is disappointed to find out that he is assigned to live, under extreme duress, with a placement family across the street from his mother’s house in Magna. His host family is not made aware of his anti-social history which crescendo-ed to him having burned 100’s of Mormon Stories podcasts onto cd’s and intentionally leaving them in the computer drives at the Family History Library. Even though he was attending (under protest) the ward he grew up in, he was still compelled to disrupt weekly SS lessons with comments about changes to the temple ceremony. His host family showed no interest in his native proclivities and did not provide him with opportunities to socialize with other Can’tLetGoNoMoMos. They subsequently had a massive, and truth-be-told culturally insensitive to a cultural-but-not-practicing-mormon, fit over him stashing his Guinness behind the food storage in the garage. In what can only be called a Cultural-cide, his host family’s consistent badgering resulted in a crisis of non-faith. After returning home his friends call him a traitor, an apologist and a Taqiyya. He eventually drifts back into activity and accepts a HT assignment with the intention of actually going every month.

  58. SlagGlass says:

    Some one told me that it isn’t safe to drive around the University neighborhood in SLC after dark because of all the Can’tLetGoNoMoMo’s who can’t hold their alcohol are staggering in the streets and driving drunk.

  59. SlagGlass says:

    I find this Thomas Kincade less banal than those effetes over at Kulturblog

  60. SlagGlass,

    I heard that NoMoMo isn’t even a real descendant of Brigham Young, nothing but a Mormon royalty wanna-be.

  61. I went on placement from the thrid grade until high school graduation, then on to BYU. The placement program has been nothing but a benefit to me and my family. I think most of you need to come out to the reservation and see the benefits from this side, instead of talking about it from far away.

    I have to think that most Utah Mormons would benefit from a placement program that challenges their preconceptions. Some might even benefit from being placed on the reservation.

  62. I would host a Utah Mormon out here on the Rez. Take em to a squaw dance, tchhh. Teach them to point with their lips an eat mutton.

    Really though I don’t think most of you have any idea what you are talling about. Most of our Rez branch here either went on placement or is the kid of someone who did. The placement program is what helped build the Church out here and membersof the Church are usually in a better situation.

    To those who said that my situation is “horrible” I say that I walk in beauty, I am with my family, I can see the stars and smell the sagebrush. I teach my people the gospel every Sunday and I teach the children during the week. Sure we have problems, but we are our own people and we have our Hózhó. You can have your racism and your mis-conceptions. You can look at my grandmother and grandfather and you can pity them as poor uneducated Idians, but I know that they have raised sheep to pay for their kid’s college tuition, I know that they spend everyday with their grandchildren teaching them their culture and their language.

    John Yazzie

  63. #61 and #62,
    Thanks for your much needed perspectives.

    John Yazzie,
    “You can look at my grandmother and grandfather and you can pity them as poor uneducated Idians, but I know that they have raised sheep to pay for their kid’s college tuition, I know that they spend everyday with their grandchildren teaching them their culture and their language.”

    Powerful words. Thank you.

  64. I read what I wrote in haste last night and apologize for the poor spelling/grammar. I need an editor!


    I hade a chance to read through all the comments and would add that, in my experience, there are a lot of members of the Church who have had little experience with the placement program and there are a lot of Indians who have had little experience with the placement program, but they still have a lot of negative opinions. I think the first group is has some bias rooted in ingorance/racism and the second group has bias rooted in anti-Mormonism. By and large, most of the Indians who went on placement and remained on placement had a positive experience (it was voluntary).

    I think out here on the Rez there are a lot of people who have heard of it and confuse it with the BIA boarding school experience, which I think is unfair.

    Two final comments, my grandparents probably raised more sheep to pay for missions than for college and #57 cracked me up.

    John Yazzie

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