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
I know it, my son: (Manasseh) also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother (Ephraim) shall be greater than he, and (Ephraim’s) seed shall become a multitude of nations. (...) And he set Ephraim before Manasseh.
- Genesis 48:19-20
Mormon’s seem to have a More-Worthy-Younger-Brother complex: Ephraim is the More-Worthy-Younger-Brother to Manasseh. Nephi is the More-Worthy-Younger-Brother to Laman. Joseph Smith was the More-Worthy-Younger-Brother to Hyrum.
"The Book of Mormon came to Ephraim, for Joseph Smith was a pure Ephraimite, and the Book of Mormon was revealed to him.” - Brigham Young (Journal of Discourses 2:268–69.)
In a sort of spin-off of British Israelism, Early Mormon leaders taught that they as holders of the Keys to the One True Church and of Northern European heritage were physical descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel, specifically the tribe of Ephraim via the Tribe of Joseph (of Egypt).
"The Book of Mormon prophet Lehi was a descendant of Manasseh," the Less-Worthy-Older-Brother to Ephraim. Lehi as the original father of Lamanites (read: Indigenous Peoples) are descendants of Manasseh. And as this church teaches that "many Latter-day Saints [a predominantly white church] are of the tribe of Ephraim" –– this Biblical Mormon family tree teaches that European-settler Mormons are related to Indigenous Peoples.
My Great Grandmother, a fourth-generation Mormon, wrote in our family history that the House of Ephraim and the House of Manasseh are the "leaders of the whole Anglo-Saxon race."
This is lineage is so important to Mormons that "a vital part of every patriarchal blessing," a sacred, once-in-a-lifetime, prophetic blessing, "is the declaration of lineage." And even though today this church teaches that tribes are not declared based on "race or nationality" I and "many (other white) Latter-day Saints" was told in my patriarchal blessing that I am "of the tribe of Ephraim".
This sibling story is also a part of the Mormon myth of Indigenous whiteness. The Book of Mormon teaches that Indigenous peoples, as descendants of Lamanites, are ancestrally white but have been cursed with “a skin of blackness". But according to the Book of Mormon and Mormon leaders, God has promised Indigenous Peoples that if they assimilate to Mormonism the curse will be lifted and they will be made "pure and delightsome" again.
This mythic family history has also bred a paternalistic relationship between Mormon-settlers and Indigenous Peoples through which Mormon-settlers have written their history of colonization to be one of salvation rather than one of assimilation and genocide. One of the many myths and histories shared by the Mormon-settler-Imperial project and the U.S.-settler-imperial-project.
This genealogical narrative serves to naturalize whiteness in this land and mark it as divine (just as their myth of Adam and Eve’s originary whiteness in this land). It also notably places whiteness as a mark of a righteous People and "a skin of blackness" to be a mark of a cursed People.
These are both moves to innocence as these tellings render all of the violence of this history of genocidal land theft as innocent, destined, and divine.
“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.
a b o o k o f r e c k o n i n g
in vulnerability and submission
A found-object poem built from the three canonical, sacred, and exclusively Mormon texts: "The Book of Mormon", the "Doctrine and Convenants", and the "Pearl of Great Price". Each text object was chosen to tell a story that would highlight the white-supremacist, racist, and terraphobic language found throughout these texts, so that we may be able to reckon with it.
Warning to readers: Some of this language is violent.
And some of you may need no reminder of this sort of violence.
"The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible. It is a record of God’s dealings with ancient inhabitants of the Americas... The record gives an account of two great civilizations. One came from Jerusalem in 600 B.C. and afterward separated into two nations, known as the Nephites and the Lamanites... After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principle* / among the ancestors of the American Indians." - Introduction to the Book of Mormon by Joseph Smith Jr., et al.
1 Wherefore, this is the land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion. | Do not suffer any unclean thing to come into it, that it be not defiled, | that I may reserve unto myself a pure people before me | having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God. | These are made white in the blood of the Lamb | that we may be purified even as he is pure. |
2 And, as I, the Lord, in the beginning cursed the land | and the earth with a sore curse, and was angry. | For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever. |
3 And the Lord cursed the earth with a sore curse, and many of the inhabitants thereof died. |
4 By nature, they fall. | And behold I will destroy all flesh from off the earth. |
5 Enoch looked upon the earth; and he heard a voice from the bowels thereof, saying: Wo, wo is me, the mother of men; I am pained, I am weary, because of the wickedness of my children. When shall I rest, and be cleansed from the filthiness which is gone forth out of me? When will my Creator sanctify me, that I may rest? |
6 And when Enoch heard the earth mourn, he wept, and cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, wilt thou not have compassion upon the earth? |
7 And the Lord said: I will destroy man whom I have created, from the face of the earth, both man and beast, and the creeping things, and the fowls of the air; | for the presence of the Lord shall be as the melting fire that burneth, and as the fire which causeth the waters to boil | and consume the wicked with unquenchable fire. |
8 And the day cometh that they must be burned. | And the earth shall pass away so as by fire | that I may reserve unto myself a pure people before me. |
9 Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord. | | | Touch not that which is unclean. | Save yourselves. | |
10 Be ye clean | | | and chasten her until she overcomes and is clean before me | white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; | a virgin. And she was exceedingly fair and white. | And behold the whiteness thereof did exceed all the whiteness, yea, even there could be nothing upon earth so white as the whiteness thereof. |
11 Behold, the Lamanites your brethren, whom ye hate because of their filthiness and the cursing which hath come upon their skins. | I will curse them even with a sore curse, and they shall have no power. |
12 Wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them. |
13 They became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations. |
14 And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them. |
15 This people shall be scattered, and shall become a dark, a filthy, and a loathsome people, beyond the description of that which ever hath been amongst us. |
16 They were led by their evil nature that 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. | Cursed shall be the land for their sakes. |
17 And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done. |
18 And their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white** / pure and a delightsome people, | white like unto the Nephites, | a civil and a delightsome people. |
19 And the Lamanites shall blossom as the rose | that they may once again be a delightsome people. | For ye shall be a delightsome land, | yea, exceeding of all beauty. |
20 And the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow, | A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins. |
21 I fear that their skins will be whiter than yours. |
22 This is Zion—the pure in heart | have shed innocent blood, which crieth from the ground against them. |
23 And now I ask of you, having your garments stained with blood: Behold, what will these things testify against you? |
*words changed in the 2007 edition of the Book of Mormon
**word changed in 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon
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.