The news that Larry Echo Hawk is leaving the Department of the Interior to take a position in the Mormon Church brings up a relationship we will no doubt be exploring in the months to come, as it's now all but certain that a Mormon candidate (Mitt Romney) will be seeking the office of President of the United States.
What is the relationship between the Latter Day Saints and Native Americans? It is a convoluted one, owing mainly to the presence of a group called the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon. Lamanites, according to the scriptural text (which non-Mormon historians dismiss), were a non-believing people of Middle Eastern origin who lived in the Americas from about 600 BC onward. More specifically, the Hebrew family of Nehi made the journey, and then his sons, Laman and Nephi, split up and formed two rival societies, the Lamanites, who didn't believe in the God of Judaism (and later Christianity), and the Nephites, who did believe. There is really a lot to this story, more than we will go into here, but one of the pesky questions that Mormons have had a hard time answering is Are American Indians Lamanites? Lamanites are clearly bad people in the Book of Mormon, and in a detail that is particularly difficult to explain, they are given dark skin as a sign of their wickedness. Is this really how Mormons view Native Americans?
Perhaps it's all just mythology from another faith that need not be taken literally. And yet -- have a look at these Lamanites from a series of Mormon action figures. (A reader sent us a link to the website where they're sold, as well as a link to this story in the Salt Lake Tribune.) Do these look like descendants of a Hebrew group who migrated to Turtle Island from the middle east in 600 BC?
Or do they just look like Indians?
Product description from website: "King Lamoni was a ruthless leader who ruled his people harshly. He often executed servants for being careless with his herds of sheep. Ammon, desiring to teach the Gospel to the Lamanites, fasted and prayed for guidance from the Lord. He became a faithful servant to King Lamoni. Recorded in The Book of Mormon (Alma 18 & 19) is the marvelous conversion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ of Lamoni, the queen, servants, and many of his people. Lamoni repented and helped his people become 'zealous in keeping the commandments of God.'"
Product description from website: "Lamanite Warriors 'were lazy and idolatrous...wild and ferocious' believing in the false traditions of their fathers. They trusted in their own abilities and not in the strength of the Lord. The Book of Mormon tells that 'the heads of the Lamanites were shorn, they were naked, save it were skin which was girded about their loins...' (Alma 3) They were armed with bows, arrows, stones and slings. '...They had marked themselves with red in their foreheads after the manner of the Lamanites...' These wicked warriors '...reap their rewards according to their works, whether they were good or whether they were bad, to reap eternal happiness or eternal misery...'"
Product description from website: "Laman, the oldest son of Lehi and Sariah, was stubborn, hard-hearted, and did not believe in the righteous teachings of his father, Lehi. The Book of Mormon records that Laman was so rebellious that he refused to listen when an angel from the Lord told him to change his behavior. Laman was a troublemaker and seldom helped his family. His wickedness caused his parents a great deal of pain and sorrow."