This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Many joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints precisely because they felt the church's sacred text was telling their history. Being a "Lamanite" (pronounced Lay-man-ite) was part of their new identity in the church. They enjoyed their privileged status among white Mormons, flocking to Utah to live among "their people" and in their "homeland." They joined Brigham Young University's song-and-dance troupe, the Lamanite Generation, and attended the Lamanite ward in Provo.
Now the term, "Lamanite," is declining among Mormons. The Lamanite Generation has become "Living Legends" and Indians worship at Provo's Franklin Second Ward (it has some services in Navajo).
Though not LDS, Forrest Cuch says the Mormon Indians he knows resent the change. He worries that it may accelerate the church's shifting emphasis from American Indians to Guatemalans and Mexicans.
There is already enough tension between Latinos and Indians, says Cuch, director of Utah Division of Indian Affairs. "Saying the only true Lamanites are in Central America is an insult to all of us."
Others, though, welcomed the change.
Jon Kissner, of the Shoshone-Bannock tribe, grew up near Fort Hall, Idaho, in the 1970s. It wasn't easy being singled out as a Lamanite.
"The expectations made me uncomfortable," says Kissner, who now lives in Murray. "It was tough to be told you were part of the chosen people."
This recent move may help Indians integrate more fully into the LDS community, he says, diminishing the differences with fellow Latter-day Saints.
Others don't feel the word change means a thing.
Harding Walker, on the board of American Indian Services in Provo, will always see himself as a Lamanite. When missionaries came to his childhood village near Gallup, N.M., his family embraced the Mormon faith immediately. It mirrored the traditions and legends he was taught by his Zuni grandfathers.
"Everything we already believed was in the Book of Mormon," Walker says. "Our religion is so close to Mormon theology, we had no problem accepting it."
His traditions even have an answer for DNA evidence, suggesting that all American Indians came from Asia across the Bering Strait.
Some, like the Navajos, did come from Siberia. But Zuni traditions say others came from the south "through the waters."
If anyone wants to dispute the Book of Mormon, they have no leg to stand on from an Indian point of view, Walker says. "People from the waters do exist."