In 1975 Dan George, a Swinomish Indian chief from British Columbia, addressed a group of Latter-day Saint educators and LDS Indian student placement service personnel in Yakima, Washington. There he depicted both the grandeur of his heritage and the dilemma of his times. Reflecting on the changes he had seen during his lifetime, Chief George lamented the impact of the "rushing tide" of modernism on the cultural dignity of his people:
I was born when people loved all nature and spoke to it as though it had a soul. . . .
[But] then the people came. More and more people came. Like a crushing, rushing wave they came, hurling the years aside. And suddenly I found myself a young man in the midst of the twentieth century. I found myself and my people adrift in this new age, not part of it.
We were engulfed by its rushing tide, but only as a captive eddy, going round and round. On little reservations, on plots of land, we floated in a kind of gray unreality, ashamed of our culture that you ridiculed, unsure of who we were or where we were going, uncertain of our grip on the present, weak in our hope of the future. . . .
And now you hold out your hand and you beckon to me to come across the street. Come and integrate, you say. But how can I come? . . . How can I come in dignity? . . . I have no gifts. What is there in my culture you value? My poor treasures you only scorn.
. . . Somehow I must wait. I must delay. I must find myself. I must find my treasure. I must wait until you want something of me, until you need something that is me. Then I can raise my head and say to my wife and family, "Listen, they are calling. They need me. I must go."
Then I can walk across the street and hold my head high, for I will meet you as an equal. I will not scorn you for your seeming gifts, and you will not receive me in pity. Pity I can do without; my manhood I cannot.1
As the words of Chief George so eloquently reveal, Native Americans throughout the United States and Canada have faced a cruel dilemma in the twentieth century: how to maintain their cultural dignity and, at the same time, gain the education and training they need to compete in the very different and brutal world that has engulfed them. The LDS Indian student placement service (ISPS) was an attempt by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to help address that problem among its members. It was also the focus of considerable controversy and conflicting interpretation, ranging from angry criticism on the part of Native American groups who felt it undermined their youth's awareness of and appreciation for their heritage to high praise from Mormon participants and others who believed that it accomplished its goal of preparing Native American youth to better meet the challenges of the modern world and value their cultural legacy. The motives of those who founded the program, the selfless efforts of numerous individuals and families who put so much into trying to make it work, the experiences (both good and bad) of students in the program, the program's strengths and weaknesses, the various efforts to evaluate its results, the legal considerations that affected it, the reasons for its demiseâ€”all these are part of an engrossing and highly important episode in the history of both the LDS Church and many Native Americans.
The story of the ISPS cannot be separated from its larger American context, which includes a variety of efforts by the federal government to "Americanize" Native Americans.2 This meant, in effect, replacing their "old ways" and cultural traditions with all the attributes of America's economic and social system, a goal that in essence was at the heart of the late-nineteenth-century reservation system,3 the ill-fated General Allotment Act of 1887, and the failed attempt at "termination"4 in the 1950s.
Throughout the nineteenth century, white Americans often justified removing Native American children from their homes, forcibly if necessary, for the purpose of educating and "civilizing" them.5 The government established day schools on reservations, but it also set up boarding schools, sponsored a foster home program, and encouraged adoption by white families, all of which took children off the reservations.6 The most controversial institutions were the boarding schools, usually located long distances from the reservations. Some parents, concerned about the economic future of their children, assented to their enrollment in these schools, while others objected strenuously but could do little about it. Overenthusiastic Indian agents, often anxious to fill quotas and protect the annual federal appropriations, sometimes literally kidnapped the children of reluctant families and forced them to the schools. Talayesva, a Hopi formerly enrolled in the Keams Canyon boarding school, described an annual "student roundup." Agency police rode in and surrounded his village, he said, "with the intention of capturing the children of the hostile families and taking them to school by force. They herded us all together at the east edge of the mesa. Although I had planned to go later, they put me with the others. The people were excited, the children and mothers were crying and the men wanted to fight."7
The treatment received at boarding schools was often unusually cruel,8 and students were constantly reminded that something was wrong with their heritage and that they were there to be purged of it. Obviously, such strategy did nothing for their feelings of self-worth or cultural pride. In 1936 Helen John, a six-year-old Navajo who later became the catalyst for the LDS Indian placement program, found herself in a boarding school in Tuba City, Arizona. There she saw firsthand how damaging these institutions could be to ethnic pride. When two boys were caught speaking Navajo, the principal washed out their mouths with soap, saying, "You know that what I am doing is to show you what we think of your talking Navajo. I'll just wash those words right out." At least one teacher wondered silently, "How can we teach these children to love the words we teach them when we show disdain for the only meaningful words they know?" But most had the attitude of the principalâ€”the Navajo language, along with the culture it represented, had to go.9 Nevertheless, the continuing hope for a better education led many Native American families to place them in a variety of off-reservation programs, including the LDS program.
There is another historical context, however, for the origin of the ISPS. It consists of several elements, including Latter-day Saints' religious commitment to the idea that the Native Americans were a choice people whom they had an obligation to help. It also included the special commitment of a loving and powerful church leader, Spencer W. Kimball, the tragic economic problems of the Navajo in the mid-1940s, and the determination of a sixteen-year-old Navajo girl.
As chairman of the LDS Church's Committee on Indian Relationships, Spencer W. Kimball developed a deep appreciation for the history and culture of Native Americans. He believed that a new day was dawning for them and that the Latter-day Saints were destined to play a role in the accomplishments of that day. "The difference between them and us is opportunity," he frequently said.10
Elder Kimball reproved church members for their lack of understanding concerning Native Americans and their reluctance to help them. In a particularly pointed address at BYU in 1953, he pleaded with Latter-day Saint to overcome their seeming hypocrisy:
. . . I want to tell you that, above all the problems the Indian has, his greatest one is the white manâ€”the white man, who not only dispossessed him, but the white man who has never seemed to try to understand himâ€”the white man who stands pharisaically above himâ€”the white man who goes to the Temple to pray and says, "Lord, I thank thee that I am not as other men are."â€”The white man is his problem. . . .
My young brothers and sisters, . . . I plead with you to accept the Lamanite as your brother. I ask not for your toleranceâ€”your cold, calculating tolerance; your haughty, contemptible tolerance; your scornful, arrogant tolerance; your pitying, coin-tossing tolerance. I ask you to give them what they want and need and deserve: opportunity and your fraternal brotherliness and your understanding; your warm and glowing fellowship; your unstinted and beautiful love; your enthusiastic and affectionate brotherhood.11
When the Navajo were placed on the reservation in 1868, they numbered ten thousand people. Eighty years later they had grown to sixty-four thousand. One of their chief means of livelihood was raising sheep, but as both the human and sheep populations increased, the grasslands were practically destroyed. Families were forced to go farther and farther away, sometimes many miles, just to graze their sheep. As children were assigned to watch and drive the sheep, the work became a family enterprise.
In 1935 the federal government responded to the erosion problem by beginning a massive stock reduction program on the reservation. From the standpoint of Navajo families, this solution was a disaster because their sheep were their total means of livelihood. The impact on Helen John's family was devastatingâ€”they were reduced to poverty. It was under these circumstances that Helen's parents "voluntarily" took her to the boarding school in Tuba City, where she attended until she was twelve.
In 1947 a severe drought added to the problems of the Navajo, and it appeared that the coming winter would be one of freezing and starvation. This potential tragedy led Spencer W. Kimball to write at least two sharply critical news articles12 and to do considerable work in behalf of the Navajo. Convinced that adequate education was the only way for Native Americans to deal effectively with their own problems, he excoriated the national government for its years of violating its 1868 Navajo treaty, and he put special emphasis on the lack of schools. The Navajo population included approximately twenty-four thousand children, but nineteen thousand of them were still without schools. Seventy-five percent of the Navajo people were illiterate, he said, compared with 1.5 percent illiteracy among U.S. whites. "Why such deprivation for the people whom we replaced?" Elder Kimball lamented. "Can graver injustices be found in any land?"13
In the spring of 1947 Helen John and her family were in the vicinity of Richfield, Utah, along with many other Navajo people, hiring out to sugar beet farmers.14 Helen asked her father, Willie John, if she could stay in Richfield to go to school once the family had left. Willie refused, telling her that she needed no more of the Bilagaanas' (white men's) education and that she should be proud to be a Navajo. Hurt, Helen ran across the field to the home of Amy Avery, for whom she and her family were working. Amy heard her crying and invited her in. They talked, Helen explained what she wanted, and the two even prayed together. Amy then telephoned Golden Buchanan, who had just been appointed coordinator for Indian affairs in the Sevier Stake of the LDS Church, and told him she had the first case for himâ€”a girl who wanted to go to school. Buchanan told Amy to keep in touch with her.
The John family returned to Richfield in October, and Helen went to see Amy as soon as she could. Amy taught Helen and her family about Mormonism while they tried to figure out a way for her to attend school. Meanwhile, Buchanan decided there must be a way to get a family to take her in so she could go to school. He even wrote to Spencer W. Kimball about his idea. Two days later at about eight o'clock in the evening, Elder Kimball showed up on Buchanan's doorstep. After dinner he asked the Buchanans to take Helen into their homeâ€”not as a servant girl or a guest, but as a member of the family. After considerable soul-searching that night, the family agreed. Elder Kimball emphasized that although this arrangement was not part of an official church program, he wanted to see it tried out because he could see a great future possibility.
The next morning was cold and snow had fallen during the night, yet the Navajo were out early in the frozen fields, topping beets. Buchanan found Helen there at work and invited her to stay with his family while she went to school in Richfield. Helen accepted without hesitationâ€”this was what she had been dreaming of and, in her own way, praying for. She also had her parents' permission.
The Buchanans worked hard to help Helen feel welcome, and Helen tried equally hard to adjust to the new Bilagaana way of living. The Buchanans also arranged for a few other children to be taken into other homes. It was not long before the Buchanans were forced to make what might be interpreted as the first harsh screening decision of the placement program. Helen had left them for a while, but she returned with two girls who spoke no English at all. The Buchanans knew that education and adjustments were difficult enough for people like Helen, but they felt that with the language handicap the girls would simply not be able to survive in school. Wanting to avoid what could have been a social disaster, the Buchanans sent them home to Arizona.15
These beginnings reflect at least three important aspects of the placement program as it later developed. First, from the standpoint of the Navajo students, this was an opportunity to break out of the poverty and ignorance they saw around them and to begin making more positive contributions to their own people. Second, Willie John's initial reaction demonstrated that the Native Americans had mixed attitudesâ€”some believing with young Helen that such a program was best for their people in the long run, others fearful that it would lead to cultural genocide. Third, the motives of the local church leaders and foster families who began the program were generally selfless. When Amy Avery first called Golden Buchanan about Helen, it was not with the idea that here was a new convert to be made, but that here was a young woman who needed help. The same desire motivated Spencer W. Kimball.
Despite the potential problems inherent in placement programs, many Native American families were not as reluctant as Willie John to get their children involved. Helen's success, in fact, prompted a number of them to approach church leaders with the request that their children also be placed.16 The program grew more rapidly than Buchanan had anticipated, and by the 1953â€”54 school year sixty-eight students had been placed, including a few in southern California, Idaho, and Oregon.
When Buchanan left Richfield to become president of the Southwest Indian Mission, Miles Jensen took his place. Foreshadowing the work of the later reception centers, Jensen provided transportation from the reservation, and his wife usually took the children into her home, bathed them, fed them, and lodged them for their first night away from their families. At this early stage of the program, most of the children involved were not members of the church.17
According to Clarence R. Bishop, the apparent success of the trial program in terms of benefits to the children "exceeded the fondest dreams of those involved."18 Elder Kimball watched carefully and reported the results to the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles. Church leaders were well enough impressed that in July 1954 they made it an official church program. In a letter to seven stake presidents in the areas most affected, the First Presidency suggested a few firm guidelines. Latter-day Saint families were not to be pressured into participating in the program; rather, the decision to participate must be completely of their own free will. They were also to understand that no child was to be considered "a mere guest," nor a servant, though "he or she would be expected to assume such responsibilities of service as all children ought to have and share." Moreover, foster families must be willing to assume financial responsibilities, because most Native American families had no means to provide all that was needed.19 In addition, participating students must be Latter-day Saints. The major goals of the placement program were to help LDS students gain the education they needed to succeed in the modern world and to help them understand and live more fully the religious principles of the church.
In order to protect its legal status, the program was placed under the Social Service Department of the church's Relief Society, which was already a licensed agency for placing children. This also meant that each child placed in a foster home would be assigned to a social worker as part of that worker's regular caseload.20
In the fall of 1955 enrollment jumped from 68 to 253 children. By that time a reception center had been established in Richfield. The church chartered buses to bring the children to the center, where they received food, medical examinations, baths and shampoos (including disinfectants), and chest x-ray examinations. They were then introduced to their foster families, who were given an extensive orientation before they were allowed to take the children home. As the program expanded, reception centers were established in several places, often using the facilities of LDS stake centers. It was a bit overwhelming for some, especially the younger children. For many it was a time of fear, apprehension, crying, and wanting to go home.
The program did not get off the ground without some problems and complaints.21 One concerned the nature of recruitment. As soon as the program became an official church program, missionaries on the reservations were assigned as recruiters. It was practically inevitable that they would use the program as a proselytizing tool, for the opportunity to enroll their children into the program might induce some families to join the church. This practice led to serious public relations problems until it was eliminated in 1972.
In 1956 the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) began to receive complaints from the Hualapai Indians in Arizona. The Hualapai charged that, among other things, the placement program was used for proselytizing, it alienated children from parents, it took children from reservations when education was available in their own communities, and the social workers were guilty of poor casework practices. As a result, an important meeting was held in Kanab, Utah, in March 1957. In attendance were representatives of the church, Utah and Arizona governments, and the BIA. The meeting ended with a new spirit of understanding and cooperation, a feeling of general support for the program once it had been fully explained, and the church's agreeing to improve some administrative aspects of the program. The problem of proselytizing was also discussed. The church agreed that caseworkers would go to the reservation and interview children and their families with respect to qualifications. Missionaries still helped recruit, but caseworkers made the final decision for acceptance, not missionaries.22
In the long run, using the placement program as a proselytizing tool was of questionable religious value, at least for those families who joined the church mainly to qualify their children for the program. Some families did little or nothing more to become familiar with church programs.23 One former placement student who later served as a missionary on a reservation said that missionaries had quotas to meet and that they baptized children to go on placement just to fill their quotas. "I learned," he reported, "that a lot of the kids were baptized just to go to school. . . . As a result, a lot of the kids that were on Placement would go home and [not] have anything to do with the Church. . . . You hear of all these hundreds of people that are members of the Church. . . . The only reason that they're on the records is because they went on Placement. We run into a lot of them even now that say, 'Oh, I used to be LDS.'"24
In the 1950s and 1960s the number of students in the program grew and various administrative refinements were made.25 In 1969 a major change came in the administration of all church social services when a new administrative entity, the Unified Social Services, was created. It became the umbrella for the Relief Society adoption services, the Youth Guidance Program, and, inevitably, the ISPS. In 1973 this entity became a separate legal corporation known as LDS Social Services.
The ISPS expanded into Arizona (1962), the Northwest (1963), Canada (1964), Idaho (1965), and Oklahoma (1966).26 At its height it operated also in Wyoming, Montana, and North and South Dakota.27 The vast majority of students were Navajo, but by the end of the 1960s, students from at least sixty-three tribes in the United States and Canada had participated in the program.28 At its peak in 1970 and 1971 it served approximately five thousand students.
The success or failure of the Indian placement program depended on the foster families as well as the preparation and attitudes of the students. There were numerous stresses and strains, usually connected with the problem of crossing cultural barriers. Some foster families gave up in just a few months, others after the first year. Some never fully understood their foster children. Others loved the experience, had a positive impact on the Native American children who came to live with them, and were pleased to take more. A few anecdotal examples help illustrate some of the problems, achievements, failures, and successes of the program and also illustrate some of the conclusions reached by the professional evaluations that are discussed later in the chapter.
When interviewed about their experiences, former placement program students frequently mentioned the initial trauma and homesickness they felt as they left home for the first time in their lives. Audrey Boone, for example, remembered when her mother took her and her sisters to the social services office in Salt Lake City for their initial interview. A social worker asked the children all kinds of questions. The students didn't realize they were being interviewed in order to help the social worker determine with whom they should be placed, so they were taken aback when the potential foster families soon entered the waiting room ready to take those who had been assigned to them.29 Boone reported this discomforting first meeting: "I had all kinds of confused feelings in my mind and heart. I was angry, mad, and sad all at the same time. I didn't really know what to think. I didn't know what was going to happen next.
"As I was looking at the families, I picked out a family that I thought I wouldn't want to be with. I was hoping and wishing I wouldn't be with them. I had no social interaction. I didn't meet them. I just looked at them and thought, 'I don't want to be with that family.' It ended up that I was matched with that family. I didn't say much on the ride home. I've never told them what I was thinking about at the time."30
Most students had initial adjustment problems. Vanta Quintero, who began the program in Provo, Utah, in the seventh grade, cried for two weeks. Despite everything her foster parents tried to do, she was inconsolable until her real parents came from Fort Apache, six hundred miles away, and took her home. The next year, however, she went back.31
Edouardo Zondajas was not prepared for some aspects of white Mormon family life, including taking baths, going to bed early, wearing pajamas (instead of just sleeping in the clothes he had worn all day), brushing teeth, and eating breakfast. He was also deeply homesick. But he held it insideâ€”too proud to cry or in any way let his foster family know how he felt. One day his foster brother was playing in their room with a watch Edouardo's father had given him. He tossed it to Edouardo, but it fell on the floor. Nothing was broken, but to the homesick youngster "it was a good excuse to let go." He burst out crying, blaming it on his foster brother's dropping the watch. His foster parents came to see what was wrong, and after they left he heard the father say, "But it was just a watch. There's no big deal about that." He later felt, however, that his foster mother "saw through what was going on."32
In the long run, Zondajas profited from the program and gave it a positive evaluation.33 After graduating, he became a volunteer with LDS Social Services in the Omaha area, working with other students in the program. As a result of that experience, he was critical of the program when it raised the age requirements. While he realized that some students may have been a bit too young, he nevertheless thought that limiting the program to high school students had serious drawbacks. "By the time a lot of these kids are fourteen or fifteen years old, they are living on their own," he said. "Some of them are pregnant. They are using drugs or alcohol. It is essentially too late." He thought that ages ten through twelve were just about right, for that was when students were most impressionable. "More often than not," he said, "they [then] fall into the wrong group." He further explained: "Some of these kids are not getting the kind of family life and support that is necessary for them to be successful. I thought at least the Placement Program was giving some of those kids a chance. I have just been involved with so many kids that deserved a chance at the age of twelve. These twelve-year-old kids are already babysitting their younger brothers and sisters over the weekend while their mom's out getting drunk and spending the welfare check. They don't have anything to look forward to. . . . [But] I've seen a lot of kids that were given that chance and were able to take advantage of it."34
Some of the problems associated with placement became apparent the moment the Cox family first met Virgil. From Virgil's perspective, getting off the bus that day was a rude disappointment. He had expected to meet the foster family with whom he had lived the previous two years, but instead he saw the Coxes. Stunned, he said nothing as he was piled into the car with the rest of the kids and driven home. "What's the matter with your head?" Kay Cox asked herself. "What have you gotten yourself into? He doesn't even speak English." But when she showed Virgil his bed, he suddenly spoke the feelings that had been devastating him all the way home. "Why didn't my other foster parents like me? What did I do?" He then cried himself to sleep.35
The story had a happy ending, but not until both Kay and Virgil had gone through some difficult times. Virgil's early experience in school demonstrated both the unfortunate attitude many whites still had toward Native American children and a foster mother's determination to prove them wrong. Virgil did poorly the first two months, but whenever Kay asked that books be sent home so she could help him learn to read, Virgil's teacher refused. One night Virgil sobbed out that the teacher told him simply not to tryâ€”he wasn't capable of doing the work. Angered, Kay marched into the offending teacher's classroom, took Virgil out, put him in another classroom taught by a friend, and warned her friend of her impending wrath if Virgil did not remain there. The principal, of course, objected that Kay could not do what she had just done, but she did it anyway. Her attitude was exactly opposite that of the racist principal, who said, "Why are you trying so hard with this kid? Don't you know he's an Indian? He can't learn." But with his new teacher's willing cooperation, Virgil brought books home, and with Kay's help he learned quickly. When he graduated from high school a few years later, Virgil was the only Sterling Scholar scholarship finalist in the entire graduating class.36
A marvelous example of the intercultural benefits of the program came many years later when Virgil's son, Paul, became one of the Coxes' foster children. As described by Kay Cox: "Toward the end of his first year, Paul did a hoop dance in his school program. I was able to teach it to him; his dad had taught it to me. It was the long way around for Navaho culture, but Paul loved it; and I loved being able to show him how."37
Fortunately for the students, many foster families had attitudes toward Native American culture much like those of the Coxes. They had no desire to wean their foster children away from the best traditions of their fathersâ€”only away from the ills associated with poverty and debasing lifestyles such as drunkenness. According to Emery Bowman, "My foster parents basically pushed me back into the Navajo tribe, Navajo tradition." His foster mother told him, "To be Navajo is to be greatly religious. To understand the Navajo tradition and the Navajo religion is very complex. So learn it."38 Another student, who became an educator, opined that "the kids that go on the Placement Program for some reason search more about their culture. . . . It seems to me that the ones that stay at home are kind of ashamed about their culture. . . . I think the kids that . . . go on the Placement Program hang on to their culture better and respect their culture."39
An abundance of such anecdotal material provides important insight into the personal side of the Indian placement program. Beyond this, however, numerous evaluations conducted in the 1970s and early 1980s looked more systematically at results. They were mostly master's theses and sociological surveys, as well as some opinion surveys. As summarized by Grant Hardy Taylor in 1981, they indicated that the ISPS provided "a better social, spiritual, cultural, and educational opportunity than the other options available to Indian youth."40 Taylor did not report, however, on one 1976 thesis that surveyed the attitudes of Navajo community leaders and concluded that the church needed to improve its public relations regarding the program.41
Several studies based on sociological data were generally positive in their results. When compared with nonplacement students, for example, ISPS students had stronger LDS commitments and better reading skills, and they were more likely to go to college. With respect to scholastic achievements, they also compared favorably with students who were not Native Americans.42 Nevertheless, survey results sometimes conflicted. Anthropologist Martin Topper studied a group of twenty-five Navajo children over a period of four years and concluded that separation from tribe and family caused emotional stress.43 He was no doubt correct, though how serious the problem was and how long lasting the effects remained open for debate. He also reported that twenty-three out of the twenty-five dropped out of the program before graduation, leaving the impression that few students attained this educational goal. However, as will be discussed shortly hereafter, a later and more thorough survey produced a more positive picture.
One study had some especially interesting things to say about caseworkers. The extent to which caseworkers were willing and able to relate to Native Americans had much to do with successful student adjustment. Three criteria for the ideal caseworker were (1) prior residence on a reservation, (2) extended yearly visits to the reservation, and (3) person-to-person conferences outside the foster home not less than once a month. Significantly, the students did not ask that caseworkers be permissive.44
In a doctoral dissertation completed in 1981, Grant Hardy Taylor studied Native American students at BYU and compared those who had been on the placement program with those who had not. He found that students with placement experience tended to begin college earlier and to finish more semesters, though placement experience seemed to make no significant difference in grade point average. He also reached a number of conclusions that demonstrated the religious value of the program. Students with ISPS experience were much more likely to go on LDS missions and to marry in the temple.45 Such conclusions are not surprising, but their implications must be modified by the data collected when BYU sociology professors Bruce A. Chadwick, Stan L. Albrecht, and Howard W. Bahr asked different kinds of questions. In 1981 they conducted the most thorough and sophisticated study of the program ever made. The study was funded by the church's Presiding Bishop's Office, and the findings were reported publicly five years later. Still later, Chadwick and Albrecht further refined and explicated them.46 Some of their conclusions are summarized below.
A continuing goal of the ISPS was that students return to their foster families each year until they graduated from high school. However, about 40 percent of them dropped out of their own accord, usually because of illness at home. Another 15 percent left at the request of their parents, who for various reasons required their help at home. About 8 percent were sent home by their foster families and not invited to return, half because of changes in family circumstances and the other half because of conflict between participants and members of the foster families. Another 2 percent left for miscellaneous reasons. The result was that only about one-third of the students remained in the program long enough to graduate. At the same time, various federal vocational programs that required participation of a year or less and did not call for high school graduation reported completion rates ranging from 20 to 70 percent. In that context the Indian student placement program, which called for several years of participation and resulted in 34 percent high school graduation, was actually quite remarkable.47 Equally significant was the fact that even after dropping out of the program, placement students went on to finish high school in significantly larger numbers than the control group (which consisted of friends of placement students who had not gone on placement). Eighty-two percent of ISPS participants eventually graduated, compared with 45 percent in the control group studied.48 In addition, the ISPS seemed to have exceptional success in encouraging postâ€”high school training. Among those former participants who were age twenty-five or older at the time of the survey, 52 percent had obtained at least one year of college, as opposed to 21 percent of the control group.49
In terms of economic security, the results of the placement program were not as impressive. Those who participated had higher rates of employment, and more of them were in occupations considered more prestigious (29 percent were employed in managerial or professional occupations, compared with only 5 percent of the control group), but the results were not statistically significant enough to be conclusive. In some respects, the investigators reported, participation in the program enhanced the economic status of those in the survey, while in other respects it did not. Nevertheless, they concluded that "none of the economic indicators showed that the participants were worse off than the controls." In addition, the longer students remained in the program, the more likely they were to be employed and to earn high incomes.50
The investigators came to other surprising conclusions about the overall social impact of the program. There was no statistically significant difference, for example, with respect to marital stabilityâ€”that is, divorce rates. Similarly, "contrary to expectations, the marriage of participants were neither more happy nor more enduring than those of the control group."51 In other areas of social adjustment, results were mixed, though with most participants, especially those who remained in an off-reservation environment, the results were generally more positive than those of the control group. The longer participants stayed on the placement program, the more likely they were to marry. Participants involved themselves with friends and neighbors more frequently than did nonparticipants, and they also joined more organizations. The two groups showed no great differences, however, in voting behavior, either in national or tribal elections. Most surprising was the difficulty participants seemed to have with the law. During a selected five-year period, 25 percent were arrested, compared with only 12 percent of the control group. This was partially explained, however, by the fact that only 21 percent of the participants continued to live on the reservation after completing the program, while 65 percent of the control group lived there after high school graduation. Those living off the reservation were simply at greater risk of being apprehended by law enforcement officers.52
The question of ethnic identity, so important to critics of the program, was carefully investigated by Chadwick, Albrecht, and Bahr, who found that the program indeed had some effect. When asked to what degree they felt "Indian" or "white," 7 percent of the participants identified themselves as "mostly white" or "totally white," compared to none among the control group. At the other end of the scale, 70 percent of the participants, as compared with 83 percent of the controls, considered themselves "totally Indian" or "mostly Indian." Ninety-one percent of both groups felt that they "completely fit in" or "fit in pretty well" with most Native Americans, though the percent of controls who felt that they fit in completely was twice that of the participants. Conversely, 85 percent of the ISPS group and 80 percent of the controls also saw themselves fitting in "completely" or "pretty well" with most whites, with only 10 percent of the participants and 8 percent of the controls saying that they completely fit in. The differences were not statistically significant, leading the investigators to express surprise that control group members felt they fit into white society just as well as the participants.53
Significantly, the study turned up no evidence of the severe psychological trauma often attributed to participation in the placement program. The investigators also noted that serious "maladaptive behaviors," such as suicide attempts and excessive drug or alcohol abuse, did not occur any more frequently in the lives of participants than in those of their control group. In contrast, they said, "participation was associated with higher general happiness and a stronger perception of being at ease in the white world," though there was a "modest lessening of Indian identity."54
The program was impressively successful so far as its educational goals were concerned, but the record was less impressive when it came to religiosity. Surprisingly, although Chadwick, Albrecht, and Bahr found that participation in the homes of strong LDS families strengthened religious belief, they reported no statistically significant behavioral difference between the participants and the control group with respect to such behavior as making financial contributions and praying (though in terms of raw figures participants contributed more and prayed more often). Neither were there substantial differences regarding the use of tobacco and alcohol (items forbidden by the LDS Church's revelation known as the Word of Wisdom), though participants refrained more readily from the use of peyote. Students who stayed on the placement program longer, however, were more likely to follow the Word of Wisdom as adults. Participation in the program increased the likelihood that young Native Americans would marry in an LDS temple rather than obtain a civil marriage. The rate of temple marriage was seven times higher among participating LDS students than among those who did not participate. In general, however, the investigators concluded that participation in the placement program "had only a minor effect on the religiosity of the Indian students and that the longer time spent on placement made only a small difference."55
Chadwick, Albrecht, and Bahr also studied the program's impact on the relationship between children and their natural families. The two major reasons given by parents for sending their children to foster LDS homes were the same reasons the church maintained the program: to help them obtain a better education and to help them learn more about their LDS faith. The results, so far as the parents were concerned, were overwhelmingly positive: 82 percent reported a favorable effect on their families, and only 13 percent reported any negative consequences. Religiosity improved, education benefited the children, and younger siblings profited from the experiences of their older brothers and sisters. When asked if they would place their child in the program if they had it to do over again, 88 percent of the natural parents said yes.56
The impact on white foster families was another matter. In 20 percent of the cases, disagreement over how to handle a child led to strains in husband-wife relationships. Twenty-five percent of the children reported that it caused strains between them and their parents, and a third indicated that their relationships with their natural brothers and sisters suffered. Many parents agreed. Nevertheless, most foster families praised the program. The most frequently mentioned reason was the "enduring warm relationship that was developed with the Indian child." Many said they had grown personally, gained greater patience, and valued their exposure to a different culture. Eighty-five percent said they would do it again. In summary, said the investigators, "the foster family members experienced very real costs by taking in a placement child. For the majority of both parents and children, however, the overall experience was good."57
Despite the positive results and the strong approval of the Native American families involved in the program, criticism mounted. The censure was clearly related, at least in part, to continuing disapproval of foster homes in general, and it was certainly affected by the rising militance and pride among some Native Americans. Though boarding schools continued, by the 1970s an increasing number of children were being placed in foster homes or adopted. In 1974 an estimated 25 to 35 percent of all Native American children were in foster homes or other institutions, most of which did nothing to help preserve their native heritage.58 Most of those who promoted these many programs were undoubtedly well-meaning, but Manuel P. Guerrero, a Native American attorney writing in 1979, expressed in particularly strong terms the feeling of many Native Americans concerning the cultural immorality of such a policy. "This wholesale separation of Indian children from their families ranks among the most tragic and destructive aspects of contemporary life," he declared. "State intrusion in parent-child relationships within the Indian culture impedes the ability of the tribe to perpetuate itself and is ultimately an unjustified coerced assimilation into the larger society."59 Such feelings led to widespread criticism of any program designed to take children away from their families, whether state sponsored or not, including the LDS Indian placement program.
The long-standing concern for what was happening to children involved in such programs finally gave rise to the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. That year one hundred thousand children were involved in various placement programs.60 Nearly twenty-seven hundred were enrolled in the LDS placement program.61 The new law gave the tribes, rather than the federal government or the states, complete jurisdiction in child custody cases. It also provided that placement in foster homes could be done only with the consent of the parents. As originally proposed, the act would have made it nearly impossible for the ISPS to continue, but a major lobbying effort on the part of the church resulted in an amendment that protected the program.62
The cultural memory of the boarding school and the continuing problems associated with student placement in foster homes and adoption programs no doubt contributed to the fact that many Native Americans looked askance at the ISPS. The criticism took various forms. Some charged, especially in the early days of the program, that it was a thinly disguised tool for proselytizing. Others argued that the program left Native American students in a "potentially destructive cultural limbo,"63 for it destroyed their identity with their native culture, caused deep emotional problems, and alienated children from their natural families. Still others charged Mormons with hypocrisy, claiming they would accept only the best and the brightest into the program.64
In 1972 enrollment in the LDS Indian placement program began to drop, and it was cut almost in half by the end of the 1970s. About 2,500 students were enrolled each year until 1984, when the program went into another fairly dramatic decline. By 1992 the program served only about 350 to 400 students, and by 1996 it had virtually come to an end.65
The phaseout was related to several factors. One was a 1972 decision by church leaders to withdraw missionaries as recruiting agents. Another was that in 1984 the church limited the program to children ages eleven to eighteen primarily because of the "greater accessibility of educational opportunities for younger children near their homes."66 The program then dropped off one grade each year until it got to the point that only high school students, ninth grade and above, were accepted.67 Finally, in 1992 the state of Utah began to enforce a rule that required nonresident students to pay out-of-state tuition that averaged about $2500 (depending on which school district was involved).68 This prohibitive cost made it difficult for students from reservations outside the state to come to Utah. An exemption was made for the 1992â€”93 school year, and those already in the program were allowed to graduate from Utah schools.
The church gave some thought to expanding the program outside Utah, but the increasing accessibility of schools on or near the reservations and the apparent improvement in facilities and educational opportunities made such an effort seem counterproductive. Instead, officials at LDS Social Services hoped that strengthening the church's social programs on the reservations would help accomplish the religious and social goals inherent in the former placement program.
Thus ended a unique chapter in the story of Native Americans in the LDS Church. It began with the yearning for education of a sixteen-year-old Navajo girl, along with the desire of an LDS apostle and many local church members to help her and others like her. Adopted in 1954 as an official church program, it expanded to a peak in the 1970â€”71 school year with some five thousand students in ten western states and parts of Canada. No matter how successful the program may have been, however, it was vulnerable to criticism, for the previous history of boarding schools, foster homes, and adoption programs for Native Americans had created an atmosphere of mistrust of any such program operated and controlled by white society. To some it looked too much like simply another manifestation of traditional efforts to Americanize the Indians and eliminate their distinctive cultural heritage. Some white Mormons were no doubt completely unfamiliar with Native American culture and were therefore incognizant of what being taken away from their natural families for most of the year, several years in a row, might do to young children in the placement program. Others, however, were very much aware of the potential problems, and most foster families made commendable efforts to accomplish the educational and religious aims of the program and at the same time help their foster children maintain appreciation for their native heritage. In the end, the Indian student placement service performed exceptionally well in achieving the major goal it began withâ€”to provide better educational opportunities for LDS Indian children. It also played an important role in enhancing their religious faith, though it contributed somewhat less to permanently changing religious behavior. In that regard, participants who did not return to the reservations seemed to fare better than those who did.69 This is certainly not surprising, but it highlights the continuing social realities faced by Native Americans as they continued to live in two worlds at the same time. Nevertheless, educational opportunity on and near the reservations continued to improve, and this eventually made the placement program less essential. For this and other reasons, the church gradually phased out the program, and by 1996 it was a thing of the past. Meanwhile, LDS Social Services increased its efforts to help out in other ways on the reservations. Working in cooperation with the tribes and other agencies, this and other programs could help bring Native Americans even closer to fulfilling the dream of Chief George: "Then I can walk across the street and hold my head high, for I will meet you as an equal. I will not scorn you for your seeming gifts, and you will not receive me in pity."70
James B. Allen is emeritus professor of history at Brigham Young University and a senior research fellow at the university's Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History.