If we theorize that the Lehites in the Book of Mormon were a small incursion into a larger existing New World population, and that their DNA was swamped out by the dominant and competing haplogroups, some members may wonder who — of the surviving modern populations — are the "Lamanites"? In the Doctrine and Covenants, for example, the early Saints are directed to go preach to the Lamanites. How could the Native Americans in Joseph's world be Lamanites? The answer is found in culture and genealogy.

While culture is learned and typically passes from parents to children, people can change cultures or assimilate into different cultures. Thus we have Americans who are culturally American, although they (or their ancestors) might have come from Africa, Europe, Asia, or many other parts of the world. Terms such as "African," "Asian," "Jew," "LDS," "Indian," and so forth are social constructs, not biological or genetic classifications.

Although some of the original Lamanite party would have had Lehite DNA, anyone who joined the Lamanites was called "Lamanite" by the Nephites. After Christ's visit to the New World, Book of Mormon peoples lived in harmony for many decades. During that time, there were "no Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were one, the children of Christ" (4 Nephi 1:17). Several decades later we read of a small revolt of people who had "taken upon them the name of Lamanites; therefore there began to be Lamanites again in the land" (v. 20).

Intertwined with cultural identification is a concept from anthropology known as emic vs. etic discourse — basically perceptions of insider versus outsider. Emic is how a people understand themselves, whereas etic is how a people are understood by outsiders. Often these two views are very different.

Those called "Egyptians" by the Greeks were "Mizraim" to the Hebrews. The Egyptians used neither term to refer to themselves. To us, some Europeans are "German," to the Italians "Tedesco," to the French "Allemand," but to themselves they are "Deutsch." We call the early inhabitants of this continent "Native Americans" or "Indians," but that is not how they referred to themselves.

To the Nephites virtually all non-Nephites were "Lamanites," while to Latter-day Saints, all Native Americas are "Lamanites." The term "Lamanite" meant different things to Nephi, Alma, Mormon, and even Joseph Smith (which is what we would expect — and happen to find — if the Book of Mormon is an authentic ancient text written by multiple authors over many centuries).

Finally, we have genealogy, or one's ancestry. Everyone has two parents, and each parent has two parents. If you go back two generations (to your grandparents) you have four ancestral slots filled by two grandfathers and two grandmothers. As we go further back in our genealogy the number of ancestral slots increases geometrically. These slots don't represent the actual number of ancestors, however, because intermarriage among relatives will cause some ancestors to fill multiple ancestral slots.

If we could create a genealogical chart for a modern Native American back to Lehi's generation we would have over 1 octillion ancestral slots (that's more than 1 trillion times 1 quadrillion). Now obviously he would not have 1 octillion ancestors (there haven't been that many people in the entire history of the world). Some ancestors would fill many of these ancestral slots. Nevertheless, on a genealogy chart, there would be 1 octillion ancestral slots. From how many slots would our Native American be descended? All of them. If Laman (or a descendant of Laman) was an ancestor in just one of these 1 octillion ancestral slots, then it can legitimately be claimed that our Native American is a Lamanite descendant.

Recent studies suggest that we are related in several ways, and that many large groups of humans are often related in distinct ways as well. Current research, for instance, posits that all 6.5 billion people on the earth today have a common ancestor who may have lived as recently as the time of Christ. Furthermore, if we were to make a world-wide family tree back to about the fifth millennium B.C. we would find that all people living today would have the same set of ancestors.

Other studies indicate that a large percentage of all people may have traces of Israelite ancestry, and that most people may be descendants of Abraham (see Genesis 22:17). Likewise, the numerical dynamics of population mixing feasibly suggests that most Native Americans are descended from Book of Mormon peoples.

So although there is no evidence for a genetic link between modern Native Americans and Lamanites, LDS scriptures and prophets are justified in referring to them as "Lamanites" due to the likelihood of cultural and genealogical affiliations.