an archive of unsettling histories, mythistories, and mystories
from U.S. & Mormon settler colonialism, white supremacy, and imperialism
from U.S. & Mormon settler colonialism, white supremacy, and imperialism
Prophet, Priest, King, Judge, Lieutenant General, Mayor, Presidential Candidate, Seer, Astrologist, Capricorn, Treasure Seeker, Scryer, Fraud and Founder of the Mormonism—Joseph Smith. 38years old. Murdered in Carthage Jail. 1844.
This is about Utah Pioneer Day.
I start with Joseph Smith ’s martyr story because the one I learned left out some context and it’s the catalyst for all that is Utah Mormonism.
Mormons are/were a Zionist religion. They gather. So when they move they bring a political and economic power block. Which upsets the settlers who’ve already claimed the areas Mormons try to settle. I don’t know the details to say yea or nay But people with power displacing People in an established area tends to be unjust.
So, it’s so-called 1844, in
Očhéthi Šakówiŋ (Sioux),
Sauk and Meskwaki,
and Peoria lands,
or so-called Nauvoo, Ill.
Joseph Smith’s a polygamist. He’s got a town of which he is the Mayor and a militia of which he is Lieutenant General (which ~2/5 the size of the U.S. army at the time).
People joining in from all over, thanks to men he’s sent off on missions (and then often marries [rapes] those mens’ wives). He’s got a U.S Presidential Campaign running with missionaries campaigning for him across the country and plans to settle in Indigenous lands settlers stole and called Oregon and California.
But he upset some of his inner-circle with polygamy (some felt isn’t wasn’t being taken advantage of enough). These men make a printing press to tell all. As Mayor and Lt General Joseph Smith ordered his militia: “Destroy the press”
The Illinois Governor is then like, “Too far!” And with Missouri breathing down his neck to extradite Smith, he orders for Joseph’s arrest
Joseph Smith is about to sneak to the so-called Rocky Mountains with his henchmen Porter Rockwell. But there’s a DM from his wife, Emma urging Smith to return and give himself up, show courage to his friends who accuse him of cowardice.
He’s arrested and murdered in his cell by People angry about things that were true and some things that were not true as none of the (white) men involved were respectable.
Truth in Mormonism has been an amorphous thing from its origins.
- After the Missouri Executive Order 44, known as the Mormon Extermination Order of 1838
(which wasn't rescinded til 1976).
- After their leader was assassinated while in jail
(because he, as mayor, declared martial law and ordered the destruction of a printing press that was, to him, a "public nuisance").
- After these people were pushed out of one town after another
(leaving most everything they owned, built, planted, etc. behind)
They walked and rode, more than 60,000 of them,
(and about as many of their cows)
halfway across the country, on the Mormon Pioneer Trail
(which follows Indigenous trails, which follow animals trails,
and the transcontinental railroad followed them all)
They trekked or trespassed (to use the colonizers word) through the lands of:
and into so-called Mexican territory during the end of the Mexican-American war. Many migrated as refugees into Mexico, into the deserts, to build their Zion – their “Deseret”
––What if, when the got to the border there had been a wall to greet them and news spreading fear of this “caravan of criminals” [as they were considered criminals in the U.S.] and their eternal families were separated and kids caged? What if what we do unto other had been done unto us?––
- After being pushed from their homes, from the lands they’d tended they pushed the indigenous inhabitants:
Nuwu (Southern Paiutes),
Newe (Western Goshutes),
and Diné (Navajo)
out of their ancestral home/lands where they'd been living for millenia.
I carry the responsibility and racism of these people with me.
“Above all the problems the Indian has, his greatest one is the white man”
- Spencer W. Kimball, 1953
The first Mormon missions were to Indigenous nations or as Mormons call them, Lamanites nations. Mormons carried these missions into their manifest destined Zion in the west where they worked to assimilate, enslave, or massacre Indigenous peoples there. These assimilation practices are rooted in the Mormon teaching that Indigenous Peoples and white Mormons share an ancestor in the ancient House of Israel. Similarly, mormons called their enslavement practice "adoption".
This “adoption” practice later morphed into the Lamanite Placement Program (LPP) or Indian Student Placement Program, (1950’s-2000) in which more than 20,000 Indigenous children (from about 63 different tribes in so-called North America, though mostly Diné) were baptized and placed with white, Mormon families for the duration of the school year, every year, until the child graduated or left the program.
"The children in the home-placement program in Utah are often lighter
than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation. These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness...
One white elder jokingly said that he and his companion were
donating blood in hopes of accelerating the process.”
- Spencer W. Kimball, GC, Oct 1960
In Mormon-written articles, the “success” of the program is measured by how white / Mormon the participants became. Mormon missions, temple weddings, and BYU attendance are all marked as successes. (There was no difference in economic success between participants and their reservation-raised peers)
Seven percent of LPP participants identified themselves as “mostly white” or “totally white.” Their peers who were raised on the reservation were twice as likely to feel that they “completely fit in” with their own people. Assimilation is genocide.
One author notes the “undoubtedly well-meaning” motives of the program’s organizers. But these “well-meaning” motives are exactly the problem. How well meaning can you be when rather than acknowledging the cultural / economic / ecological genocide that you’ve enacted on a people, you instead build a program to finish the job, to “Kill the Indian, save the Mormon." And then pat yourself on the back for it.
In an NPR podcast on the Lamanite Placement Program, a Mormon man asks:
"What is culture? And when is it good and when is it bad? And what's sacred about it? My grandmother came from Denmark." He continues, "She gave up her complete culture to come to America and be a member of The Church. Is that wrong? Is that bad? Which culture did these children give up? Did they give up their original culture where they had the gospel of Jesus Christ in their life? Or did they give up another culture that they came to when they left the gospel of Jesus Christ?"
These “undoubtedly well-meaning” “nice white” people are the definition of White Saviorism.
There is so much more that could be said about this program and its impact on the Indigenous peoples, like the on-brand cases of sexual assault filed by a few Diné against the church. One individual told his case manager that he was being beat and sexually abused who didn’t show up for 6 months and his boy scout master. Neither did anything. The abuse continued.
We could also talk about Indigenous resistance like the American Indian Movement and how they fought the LPP in congress and boycotted the 1973 general conference, beating drums, and demanding that the church donate ten million dollars to Indian social programs and return the native skulls held in the church’s history museum.
Chosen Whiteness and Indigenous Erasure in Mormonism, pt. 3: settler-colonial mythistries of the U.S.
Mormonism was Made In The U.S.A. – made on stolen Indigenous lands. Like the U.S. military, car companies, and the Boy Scouts, Mormonism also loves to Play Indian while attempting to naturalize their whiteness and/or Christianity in this land.
The mythistoric beginnings of life on earth in Mormonism occur in the Garden of Eden. Like other forms of US protestant-Christianity, Mormon-Adam and Eve are depicted as a skinny, cisgender, hetero, abled, white couple surrounded by charismatic megafauna from all over the world. Unlike other forms of US protestant-Christianity, Mormon-Adam and Eve are created on this continent, in so-called Adam-ondi-Ahman, in so-called Missouri, on Osage, Kiikaapoi, and Očhéthi Šakówiŋ lands.
This is also where Joseph Smith planned to build his own settler-State of Zion to prepare for the Second Coming of Christ.
This mythistry serves to both naturalize and deify whiteness and Christianity in this land. And like the Doctrine of Discovery, this narrative attempts to grant the Mormon Church – as the only Church with this supposed knowledge – divine rights to the lands.
My Great Grandma’s genealogy record goes back to Adam and Eve – fabricating hereditary ties to these stolen lands – reifying this settler-mythistry in my family history.
Mormonism teaches that God purified this continent during the Flood of Noah by committing complete genocide on all of its life.
Later, God gives his Promised Land to Lehi’s People – ancient-Israeli migrants who were white and conventionally attractive. God’s People lose the land after all the white Christians in story are killed by the “cursed” brown People.
History is blended with fiction in the Book of Mormon when an ancient white Prophet prophecies Columbus's so-called discovery of God's Promised Land. The Mormon-American history narrative continues, teaching that God guided Columbus to restore white-Christianity to His “Promised Land." This narrative doesn't address the fact that in the 100 years after Columbus's invasion of this land, 90% of its Indigenous People are killed by colonialism.
Continuing with the Mormon-America mythistry: Columbus's restoration of white Christianity to this land laid the foundation for “Our Divine Constitution” to be written and signed by a group of wealthy, white-supremacist, Christian, human-owning men who were supposedly guided by God to lay the religious-freedom-foundations necessary for the Restoration of the Only True Church.
Nineteenth century Indian-fetishes and Indigenous genocide helped Joseph Smith built a religious movement on (mis)appropriation of Indigenous lands and cultures. The Manifest Destiny-era of the U.S. settler project help Brigham Young and my People occupy the “vales of Utah” and build their Zionist State in preparation for the End of Days. This mythistry and history are soaked in the white-supremacist, settler-colonial violence of its time.
“And behold the whiteness thereof did exceed all the whiteness, yea, even there could be nothing upon earth so white as the whiteness thereof.” - 3 Nephi 19:25
In the early 1800’s, when Joseph Smith was a boy, it was a common for the everyday white-supremacist of the time to believe that some ancient white people emigrated to this land long-ago, but were eventually wiped out by the ancestors of contemporary Indigenous People. This belief is rooted in their white-supremacist ideologies which say that only white people can build the kinds of structures, cultures, and civilizations that Europeans witnessed in the earthworks of the Moundbuilder nations and temples of Maya, Inca, Aztecs, and Olmecs. This white-supremacist logic lives not only in the Book of Mormon but in the popular conspiracy theories of "Ancient Aliens".
In this mythistry, the existence of these structures IS proof that some ancient white people have been here. So the next questions become: What happened to these Peoples? Where are they now?
As a record of its time, the 19th century, the Book of Mormon imagines answers to these questions.
The Book of Mormon introduces itself as "a record of God’s dealings with ancient inhabitants of the Americas, the [white] Nephites and the [dark] Lamanites." After centuries of war the Nephites are completely wiped out by the Lamanites who "are among the ancestors* of the American Indians." (*until 2007 this text read, “the principle ancestors”)
The main storyline of the Book of Mormon begins with Lehi’s family who are described as a “white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome" people. They are Chosen by God to populate and replenish this Promised Land. This family arrives around 600 B.C. and shortly split into two groups: Nephites and Lamanites. The Nephites “were generally more righteous than” the Lamanites, who rebelled against their God, father, and brothers.
The Lamanites "were led by their evil nature (and) they became wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, full of idolatry and filthiness; feeding upon beasts of prey; dwelling in tents, and wandering about in the wilderness."
To keep the "generally more righteous" Nephites from intermarrying with these evil-natured Lamanites, God cursed the Lamanites. "As they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome that they might not be enticing unto (the Nephites) the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon (the Lamanites)." God went on to warn the Nephites that if any of "the seed of (the Nephites) mixeth with (Lamanite) seed ... they shall be cursed" with the same "skin of blackness" curse.
But this white God is a merciful white-supremacist, so he makes the Lamanites and their posterity, "the American Indians," an “optimistic promise." If the Lamanites or "American Indians" forsake their People’s lifeways and accept the Book of Mormon as their history and Mormonism as their religion then “they shall (become) a pure and a delightsome People," “white like unto the Nephites,” who are “a civil and delightsome People.”
So, basically, Mormonism teaches that contemporary Indigenous Peoples are descendants of ancient white Israelis who lost their rights to this so-called Promised Land when they were cursed with "a skin of blackness" which they still carry. But if they assimilate to Mormonism and stop living their Indigenous lifeways, they will have their curse of dark skin lifted and they'll return to their original state as a pure, white, and attractive people again.
I am nicholas b jacobsen, an artist, researcher, historian, educator, and organizer. I am a trans-non binary Euro-settler raised in the Nuwu lands of so-called Utah. My family has been Mormon and Utahn for as long as either of those concepts have existed. My ancestors sacrificed everything--their identities, homelands, jobs, health, & safety to become Mormon, Utahn, U.S. American, & white--to settler their Zion. I take it as my personal responsibility to unsettle what my ancestors settled. and to help my fellow settlers do the same through writing, art, and community building.