Making Lamanites focuses on the Indian Student Placement Program (ISPP), in which tens of thousands of Native American children of the mid- to late twentieth century left reservations and urban communities to live with white Mormon foster families while attending school. In the 1940s, the Mormon Church’s renascent interest in proselytizing American Indians coincided with a rising desire among many Native people, especially Navajos, for better childhood education. By the 1960s, the ISPP had evolved from a dozen annual informal arrangements into a massive bureaucratic organization, with scores of caseworkers overseeing thousands of placements each year. The book’s major strength is its reliance on hundreds of interviews with former students, allowing the author to delve into the complexities of individual human interactions, rather than pitting colonizing program organizers against colonized Native students.

To be sure, an ideological rift separated program organizers from...

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