[AML] Navajo Times Article

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Autore: arianne cope
To: aml-list
Nuovi argomenti: [AML] Beck, Leaving the Saints
Oggetto: [AML] Navajo Times Article
I haven't shared other press about my book, but this article was one was
interesting enough pass along.

Arianne Cope

Former LDS placement students take issue with novel

By Cindy Yurth
Special to the Navajo Times

    Poor Mary. Her mom put her in the LDS Church’s Indian Placement Program so 
she could have a better life, but it seems she would have been better off 
staying on the rez with her party-girl mother and her abusive, alcoholic 
    Try as she might to be good, Mary’s skin never turns “white and 
delightsome” as promised in the Book of Mormon. Instead of a kinaaldá, she 
gets a five-minute lecture in the middle of the night. Against her better 
judgment, she marries the missionary who baptizes her and, trying for a son, 
produces nine daughters before he leaves her.
    Fortunately, Mary isn’t real. She’s the heroine of Latter-Day Saint author 
Arianne Cope’s new novel, “The Coming of Elijah,” which paints a dark view 
of the church’s controversial effort to aid Native youngsters.
    But four Navajos who participated in the placement program — which placed 
20,000 Native American children with LDS families between 1947 and 1996 — 
think Cope is being a little hard on the program they credit with changing 
their lives for the better.
    “I didn’t like the book,” declared Theresa Barbone Blackbird of Pueblo 
Pintado, N.M., who joined the placement program in the 1970s at the age of 
15. “It was so sad. I loved placement. Why would a (LDS church) member write 
a book like this?”
    Cope, who grew up in Spanish Fork, Utah, where the novel is set, and now 
lives in Cedar City, said she based the book on a number of interviews she 
did with both former placement students and their foster families.
    “I found that although the program was born of good intentions, the results 
in most cases were mixed,” she wrote in an e-mail to the Times. “There were 
definitely some positive experiences that came from the program … But there 
were also a lot of children who felt misplaced in the placement program.”
    Besides, the author confessed, “If the book had been merely positive, it 
would have been more than dull, it wouldn’t have accomplished anything … I 
want Navajos, Mormons, Navajo Mormons and everyone who reads it to take a 
fresh look at their perceptions of race and culture.”
    Taking a fresh look at race and culture is one thing the placement program 
itself accomplished among both its participants and the families who hosted 
    San Juan County, N.M. Commissioner Ervin Chavez, who was placed with three 
different families in Utah’s Cache Valley as a teenager in the late ‘60s and 
early ‘70s, said the program helped him see beyond race.
    “Growing up in Nageezi (Chapter), we didn’t meet very many Anglos,” he 
said. “I thought of them as a lot different from us. But living with Anglos, 
I could see that they put their pants on one leg at a time like me; they got 
headaches like I did. To this day, when I meet someone, I honestly don’t 
think of them as Native, Anglo, Black, Hispanic, whatever. I see them as an 
    Having been raised in a home where both parents were heavy drinkers, Chavez 
felt relieved to be among the teatotaling Mormons.
    “It was nice to be in a house where there wasn’t a drop of alcohol, where 
you didn’t have to see your parents staggering around,” he said. “I resolved 
never to touch alcohol when I grew up, and to this day I’ve kept that 
    Chee Smith of White Horse Lake, N.M., takes it a step further. “If not for 
the placement program, I probably wouldn’t be here talking to you,” he said. 
His parents, also alcoholics, became violent when they drank and sometimes 
hit him, he said. He joined the placement program in fourth grade, mostly to 
get out of the house.
    In tiny Clarkston, Utah, he found his niche.
    “I needed discipline at that point, and I got it,” he said. His foster 
parents had a dairy farm, and he was expected to get up at 4 a.m. so he 
could milk the cows before the school bus arrived. The heavy farm work built 
muscles, and when he entered Sky View High School in Smithfield, Utah, he 
decided to go out for cross-country.
    “I went to state three times,” he said, smiling at the memory.
    By the time Smith graduated from Sky View, he had athletic scholarship 
offers from four different colleges. But his foster parents gave him what he 
considered a better offer. He still tears up when he talks about it. “They 
offered to pay all my expenses if I went on a mission for the church,” he 
said. “I couldn’t believe anyone would do that for me.”
    Smith was sent on an LDS mission to Quito, Ecuador, where he learned 
Spanish and enjoyed meeting people from various South American tribes. He 
did eventually go to college, obtaining a civil engineering degree from 
Brigham Young University.
    “You see me here, dressed nicely, going to church,” said Smith after 
attending a service at the small LDS branch in Pueblo Pintado, where he’s 
second councilor to the branch president. “If not for the placement program, 
I’d be a drug addict or in jail. I may not even be here. I really believe 
    Like Smith, who successfully ran for president of his chapter after coming 
back to the reservation, Chavez and Marie Justice of Page, Ariz., another 
placement program alumna, found themselves seeking leadership roles.
    “When I saw how people lived off the reservation, with running water and 
electricity, I thought, ‘Why can’t Navajos have these things?’” Chavez 
recalled. One of the first things he did after becoming Nageezi Chapter 
president was to run some water lines.
    “It gave you something to strive for,” agreed Justice, now president of 
United Mine Workers Union Local 1620 and a candidate for Navajo Nation 
Council in the recent election. “I definitely set my sights higher because 
of the placement program.”
    It wasn’t all roses, of course … Blackbird recalls being teased by a rough 
group she calls “the urban farm boys” in Hyrum, Utah, where she was placed.
    “They called me ‘squaw’ and ‘wagon-burner,’” she recalled. “I didn’t even 
know what that meant. I just ignored them.”
    But one day a friend overheard her being teased by an Anglo girl.
    “She was just hurling racial slurs at me, one after another,” Blackbird 
recalled. “She wouldn’t stop. My friend, another placement student, came 
over and beat her up. We both got in trouble, but that girl never called me 
names after that.”
    Ironically, the placement kids had to endure teasing when they came back to 
the rez for the summer as well.
    “I got called ‘Goody Two-Shoes’ because I wouldn’t smoke or drink with the 
other kids,” Blackbird recalled. “I just said ‘Thank you.’ I mean, is that 
supposed to be an insult?”
    Blackbird, Chavez and Smith, who all attended Sky View High, recall about a 
dozen placement students at the school, mostly other Navajos. They often 
chatted in their native language and got together for events.
    Justice, who was placed in a series of posh seaside communities in northern 
California, had a different experience, being the only Native in her school.
    “There was plenty of brown skin,” she said. “I didn’t get singled out or 
anything. Most people just thought I was Mexican.”
    But with no Navajos to converse with, she lost her language.
    “I had to learn it as an adult when I got back,” she said. “Even now, I’ll 
be talking in Navajo, thinking I’m doing pretty good, and an elder will 
correct me.”
    All four former placement students interviewed for this article have stayed 
in contact with their foster families, but two — Chavez and Justice — have 
drifted away from the church. Justice decided to return to the Navajo 
traditional religion, and Chavez, when he goes to church at all, finds 
himself heading for the Baptists.
    Smith and Blackbird, who is Relief Society president in the Pueblo Pintado 
Branch, both stayed Mormon. But Blackbird hasn’t applied for a temple 
recommend, the letter signed by an LDS bishop that states the holder has 
fulfilled all the tenets of the religion and is worthy to enter the temple.
    “There are certain things from my tradition I want to hold onto that I 
think prevent me from being temple-worthy,” she said. “Maybe some day I’ll 
be able to let them go, but not yet.”
    That’s exactly the kind of thing the fictional Mary is struggling with in 
“Elijah,” Cope said.
    “Her struggle is one we all go through, whether we’re Navajo, Mormon, 
Jewish, Muslim, whatever,” she said in her e-mail. “We all must sift through 
the good and bad that has been passed down to us and endeavor to pass down 
only the good to our children.”
    Cope doesn’t believe Mary’s story is all that sad. “It is ultimately 
redeeming,” she wrote. “Mary is able to embrace Navajo and Mormon cultures 
and pass down the best of both to her daughter.”

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