“Seminary for Six-Year-Olds,” Ensign, Dec. 1975, 21–22
Seminary for kindergarten children? Yes, Indian seminary is a unique program designed to fit the needs of thousands of children and young people, many of whom, because of distance, attend boarding schools for their education. The program serves over forty tribes in twenty states and five Canadian provinces and teaches nearly 12,500 Indian students.
“Literacy and education are vital for able leadership,” according to Kenneth H. Beesley, associate commissioner of Church education. “Without them it is extremely difficult for members of the Church to operate strong branches, wards, and stakes and to be effective in their communities.”
The curriculum also is especially adapted for American Indians. An example: for the duration of a course entitled “Doers of the Words of Jesus,” the class is called “the Doer Tribe,” with each student in turn learning leadership qualities as “chief” of the tribe. Filmstrips and instructional materials feature Lamanite children in situations that Indian students can identify as real-life experiences.
Consistent with the current policy of the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs schools, most Indian seminaries meet only once a week at an hour prescribed for religious instruction, but the program has the flexibility to take advantage of more classroom teaching opportunities as they arise. For example, the Intermountain Indian School in Brigham City, Utah, holds a daily early-morning class.
The ultimate goal of Indian Seminaries is to help the students to develop sound testimonies of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is hoped that the high school students can move on to regular released-time seminaries, and the younger children to Primary where local wards and branches are sufficiently organized.
Begun in 1949 with six Latter-day Saint students in Brigham City, Indian Seminaries soared to a high of 17,000 enrolled students in 1972. Transferring younger pupils to the Primary organization has lowered total enrollment for the last three years, but enrollment in single schools is still high—350 attend seminary at the schools in Kaibeto and Tuba City, Arizona. Many Indian high school students are also enrolled in the regular released-time seminary programs that have recently been established.
Although full-time missionaries have usually taught the classes, they are now being replaced by Indian parents and full-time professionals.
Seminary is leaving a marked impression on the lives of many students, among them Lorenzo Curley, a Navajo boy introduced to the gospel through seminary one year ago during his first year of high school. Lorenzo was chosen to represent his seminary with a fellow student, a recent convert, at a seminary “scripture chase” event in St. Johns, Arizona. Though the two Indian boys lacked the three other members necessary to form a scripture chase team, they competed with the Anglo teams, each made up of five lifelong members of the Church known for their past achievements in seminary work. Despite odds that seemed so great, Lorenzo and his partner won the competition 50 to 0.