Mormons, Indians and Lamanites: The Indian Student Placement Program, 1947-2000

by Garrett, Matthew R., Ph.D., ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY, 2010, 554 pages; 3410632


This dissertation traces the institutional history and ethnographic implications of the Indian Student Placement Program (ISPP). The ISPP was a voluntary foster care program operated for Native American youth by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1947 until 2000. Building upon a century of educational outreach programs for Native Americans and Pacific Islanders, Mormons in southern Utah invited Navajo migrant workers' children into their homes to attend local public schools. After six years of informal operation the Latter-day Saint (LDS) Church institutionalized the program under its Utah based and state licensed Relief Society organization. Enrollment rapidly climbed and peaked at 5,000 students in 1970 as participation of students and foster homes stretched across the western United States and Canada and into several eastern states.

The stated purpose of the program was to offer educational opportunities, leadership development, spiritual reinforcement, and cross-cultural exposure to otherwise reservation bound Indian youths. The ISPP worked to instill Western notions of industry through the imposition of an ethno-religious identity. The Lamanite identity defined Indians as culturally and spiritually apostate Israelites destined for latter-day restoration through an internalized Protestant work ethic. Although some rejected this theological identity others found it a point of strength and empowerment as they attended schools and participated in specific ISPP efforts to develop Western leadership patterns among Native American participants.

During the 1960s and 1970s an expansive bureaucracy emerged to monitor and carryout the ISPP; however, the ever-more hierarchical structure distanced passionate program founders and early-caseworkers from policy making. Meanwhile, criticisms from within and without the LDS Church increasingly targeted the program. Indian activists and social reformers repudiated the ISPP as crudely assimilationist while church leaders lamented the program's failure to fully redeem and restore Indians to their prophetic destiny. The LDS Church began to phase out the program in the 1980s and terminated new admissions following a 1990 lawsuit. The final placement student graduated high school in 2000 and the program ceased to operate thereafter. In total some 30,000 to 40,000 students participated in the ISPP.

AdviserDonald Fixico
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsReligion; American studies; American history; Religious education; Public policy; Ethnic studies; Native American studies
Publication Number3410632

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