President Thomas S. Monson, addressing some 200 Indian placement students as part of a special youth conference, urged them to be proud of their heritage and pass along their native traditions.
The conference was conducted April 18-20 in Salt Lake City for youth participating in the Church's Indian Placement Program, primarily in Utah and Idaho. Young men and young women ages 15 through 18 attended.President Monson, second counselor in the First Presidency, was the keynote speaker at a luncheon April 19. Several students also participated in the luncheon program, offering prayers, talks and musical numbers.
"You have traditions, and you need to keep them and share them," President Monson told the students. "You can keep traditions in the proper place and benefit from them. Keep your singing abilities, stay true to all that is good in your heritage, and then learn all you can in the homes where you are staying."
President Monson related a variety of uplifting experiences he has had as a Church leader with native Americans, and commended the students for striving for excellence and for having the faith and courage to leave their homes and experience another culture. He also promised leaders and foster families they would be blessed for their service.
"I commend you for having the fortitude and the faith to strive for excellence. You have plunged into a new environment to learn more and to be more helpful and effective in your future lives. You have literally gone before, showing others the way to follow. I salute you, as young pioneers in the army of the Lord Jesus Christ."
President Monson recalled receiving, as a young bishop, a telephone call from then Elder Spencer W. Kimball of the Council of the Twelve. The apostle told President Monson of a "delightful Navajo widow" living in a trailer court in his ward. "Would you ask your Relief Society president to visit her and bring her to the meetings?" President Kimball asked.
"I said I would be happy to do it," President Monson responded, "but thought I had better visit her first, and asked him which trailer she lived in."
"The smallest one," President Kimball answered.
"So I went over to Fifth South here in Salt Lake City and visited that sweet, lovely Navajo widow, and told her the Relief Society would be coming to visit her. She became a very productive sister in our ward. We learned from her, I think, more than she learned from us. And I think had it not been for the kindness of an apostle by the name of Spencer Kimball, we might have lost that dear woman."
"I say to those of us who have the opportunity to work with the children of Father Lehi: We will receive blessings untold. We may not see them in the first day or the first week, but indeed, the blessings will come."
He concluded with a challenge to the youth to work hard at their education and to seek the Lord's help with overcoming challenges, in school or otherwise.
"This is the time for you to prepare for the future. . . . If you find yourself having difficulty with a particular course, don't just wait for help to come. Seek the help you need, and I promise you, the Lord will provide it. The Lord is not going to let you fail. Remember, seek and ye shall find. That's a promise that I leave with you today."
Following President Monson's remarks, he was presented a drawing from student Leon Billie that incorporated several spiritual elements including the scriptures, the Savior, President Ezra Taft Benson, an Indian in native costume and an eagle.
Chairman of the youth conference was Randy Yellow, a priest in the Bountiful 9th Ward, Bountiful Utah Stake, whose native home is in Monument Valley, Utah.
"The conference is both a spiritual and fun experience for the students, allowing them to grow," Randy explained. "It's something that everyone looks forward to, and we're having a lot of fun."
In addition to the luncheon, the conference schedule included baptisms for the dead at the Salt Lake Temple, visits to Church sites in Salt Lake City, a dance; sports; fireside; competition in art, poetry and essays; and other activities.