Why are more Navajos joining LDS Church?

Published: Thursday, Oct. 31 2013 2:25 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — An LDS stake's gardening program in Tuba City, Ariz., has grown from 25 gardens planted by Navajos next to their homes four years ago to 1,800 today.

The stake plans to add 500 more gardens in the next year, Stake President Larry Justice told the New York Times in a story published Wednesday.

The growing number of gardens mirrors the growing number of Navajos joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the area, wrote Times reporter Fernanda Santos. Church membership there is up 25 percent over the past five years.

Justice and other LDS Church volunteers tend a plot behind their church building, where they share local gardening information, hand out seeds and teach self-reliance.

Justice told the Times that Navajos connect with their heritage through the land. He also reported the church has plans to use his gardening program with indigenous peoples in Latin America.

The story covers the rich and complex relationship and history between the tribe and the LDS Church. It also discusses the difficult issues facing Native Americans, such as unemployment and alcoholism, some of which were discussed by Navajo and LDS Church leaders during a meeting two years ago.

The University of Utah Press published a biography earlier this year of an LDS Navajo man who went through the church's Indian Placement Program — which began in 1947 and at one point included nearly 5,000 students, according to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism — and served an LDS mission to his own people. The placement program ended in 2000

"Navajo Tradition, Mormon Life: The Autobiography and Teachings of Jim Dandy," also provides a detailed description of Navajo beliefs.

Email: twalch@deseretnews.com

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