Saturday, May 26, 2012

On the Border by the Lamanites

Kansas City, Missouri Temple
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently dedicated a new Temple in Kansas City, Missouri (no, not that Temple!) And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency just announced a $4 million settlement with a Questar company to resolve violations of the Clean Air Act in the Unitah Basin, Utah. In my mind, of course, these things connect.

I don't talk much about work on the blog but this is another case with a news release from an official agency so I'm not revealing any confidences. I worked on the case for some years assisting EPA and the US Department of Justice in addressing issues relating to federal jurisdiction as we considered the location of the alleged violations to be within Indian Country on the old Uncompahgre Reservation in eastern Utah. As a part of that work, I spent a few days with opposing counsel reviewing historical records maintained in Lenexa, Kansas. That gave me my first opportunity to visit Mormon historical sites in Missouri, which I did every evening rushing out as the records center closed.

I also don't talk much about the Native American people I work with as an attorney for the Department of the Interior including the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The complex religious meaning of the people of the Book of Mormon as among the ancestors of the native peoples of the Americas is one of those faith issues that is separate from government work - separation of church and state and all. And for a good explanation on some of the controversies surrounding Mormons and Native Americans, I refer you here.

What I want to explain is that Mormon beliefs relating to a physical Zion as a center place for the millennial reign of the Lord Jesus Christ originate in a revelation to Joseph Smith identifying it would be "on the borders by the Lamanites" (D&C 28:9). This was understood to mean the Native Americans who were, at least in part, descended from the people of the Book of Mormon. In Joseph Smith's day, the geographical line now constituting the boundary between the current states of Missouri and Kansas was the boundary between the United States and unorganized Indian Territory. A later revelation specified the center place of Zion as Independence, Jackson County, Missouri. (D&C 57).

Mormon Historical sites in Missouri showing Indian Territory boundary of the 1830s
from Maps and Index of Place Names at
This is where it gets interesting. On the west side of the modern-day Kansas City metropolitan area, over the Kansas state border, is the city of Lenexa. That is where the Department of Interior and the National Archives and Records Agency have established the American Indian Records Repository (AIRR) and where we did our "discovery" for the EPA case. It is an amazing facility containing archives of historical Indian records of the U.S. government in its dealings with Native American Tribes and Peoples from the establishment of our nation forward to the present. The records are stored in modern facilities built underground in limestone caves. It gave me an odd Arne Saknussem (Journey to the Center of the Earth) feeling driving my rental car down into underground caverns. While there were obviously no windows, the offices and facilities were expansive and modern enough I had no sense of claustrophobia.

And there I was, touring Mormon historical sites in the evening after spending my days underground with over 200 years of Indian records. Maybe the border by the Lamanites is not just the old Indian Territory line, but the line between above and below the earth. Once again, a line between the living and the dead. Voices from the dust, indeed!

 Me (above ground) behind the LDS Visitors Center in Independence, Missouri, 2009
Note wide expanse of undeveloped land part of the original "Temple Lot"

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