More than 700 Indigenous members of the Church from dozens of communities around the world gather in Arizona

During the 2-day “Gathering of Tribes” in Arizona, participants attended the temple, took part in traditional dances, had a youth gathering and listened to speakers on the Book of Mormon and gathering of Israel

MESA, Arizona — More than 700 Indigenous members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gathered in Mesa, Arizona, rising to the charge to build the kingdom of heaven by fortifying gospel principles and traditional values.

They left with support, encouragement and more hope in their Savior and His Atonement.

“I see this gathering as a spiritual lifeline,” said Cindy Quinney, of Calgary, Alberta, who was instrumental in organizing the event after planning a similar gathering in Calgary last year. “This was an opportunity for my brothers and sisters to come together, find more hope and move forward.” Quinney is from Onion Lake Cree Nation in Canada.

Indigenous peoples are culturally distinct ethnic groups whose members are directly descended from the earliest known inhabitants of a region. In attending the “Gathering of Tribes,” 30 North American Indigenous communities were represented, as well as people indigenous to the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Samoa, Tonga, Peru, New Zealand, and the Maya, Totonaca and Purepecha Aztec of Mexico, according to event planner Shane Manning of Gilbert, Arizona, who oversaw registration. Some attendees also brought family members and friends.

“This gathering was organized by Indigenous people for those who see themselves in the promises of the Book of Mormon about the gathering of Israel and the many roles the different tribes play in that,” she said. “We wanted people to be able to claim their own identities as they feel appropriate.”

Participants in the “Gathering of Tribes” event gather at the Mesa Arizona Temple on Friday, March 10, 2023. Some wore regalia and traditional clothing in honor of their ancestors and culture. For decades, the Mesa temple was known as the “Lamanite Temple,” when serving Saints of Arizona, Mexico and Central and South America. | Scott P. Adair, for the Church News

The “Gathering of Tribes,” held at a large Church-owned facility called the Interstake Center near downtown Mesa, was the first of its kind in the United States. During its two days of activities, March 10-11, participants attended the temple, took part in traditional dances, listened to speakers, learned through workshops, enjoyed meals together and shared testimonies.

Speakers focused on the Book of Mormon, forgiveness, repentance, testimony and the gathering of Israel.

Ezekiel C. Sanchez of Mesa, one of several event planners, spoke about the Book of Mormon, stating this is “our book.”

“That’s why we are here today,” he said, holding up the book. “We are Father Lehi’s children, and we, being moved by the Holy Spirit, gather here today … to be more converted to the Lord Jesus Christ. This is Heavenly Father’s gift to you and I — the Book of Mormon. It contains a witness of our Savior, His Son. It is called ‘The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ.’ Right from the very beginning to the very end, if you read carefully, it speaks about our Savior and how to become like Him, how to have faith in Him and to repent. Then we can go ahead and move forward and walk in the light.”

Prior to performing traditional dances, many joined in the Grand Entry during event on March 10, 2023, in Mesa, Arizona. | Scott P. Adair. for the Church News

Event planner Bill Chamema, from the Hopi community of Moenkopi, Arizona, said he was grateful for the things he heard and felt during the gathering. “There were some inspired, powerful and sacred messages given — heartfelt,” he said.

In a session attended by about 40 youth, participants discussed gospel-related topics and what it feels like being an Indigenous person.

Quinney later had the youth stand at the front of a general session. “These are our future,” she pointed out. “These are the future leaders. … These are who matter. … We want to teach them how much they are loved. We want them to know how important they are in the gospel and in our lives individually and in our families.”

Quinney said she followed spiritual promptings to approach Church leaders about holding an event last September in Calgary and, again, to hold this event in Mesa. She said she was led to others who live in Arizona to help plan and organize the gathering. Word spread quickly, volunteers were secured, and interested participants registered online.

Dobbins and Jones families came to walk around the Mesa Temple on March 10. 2023. | Scott P. Adair, for the Church News

The event was supported by local Church leaders and volunteers, under direction from the North America Southwest Area presidency.

Elder Brian J. Holmes, Area Seventy, quoted Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who said in the October 2022 general conference, “As our Church population grows ever more diverse, our welcome must grow ever more spontaneous and warm. We need one another.”

Elder Holmes added: “So leaders came together to create an event to promote a greater sense of unity, love and belonging.”

Stuart R. Turley, president of the Mesa Arizona Stake, helped coordinate the event and offered support from members of his stake as well as neighboring stakes.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had a gathering before with this focus, and with people with desires to come from so far,” he said.

In a traditional drum circle, Bearheal from Gila River, Arizona, perform on March 10, 2023, in Mesa, Arizona. | Scott P. Adair, for the Church News

He explains that 20 stakes within the Mesa Arizona Mission helped with the event, including preparing meals, setting up chairs, holding youth activities and child care.

He offered that perhaps the message attendees heard throughout the two days was: “No matter where they come from or how they feel about themselves, they belong, the Lord loves them and wants to gather them together to Him, to bring them all together to the gospel and the Church.”

Another event planner, Julius Tulley of Window Rock, Arizona, which is the capital of the Navajo Nation, said he became involved because of what President Russell M. Nelson has said about the gathering of Israel, citing this quote: “… the Lord is hastening His work to gather Israel. That gathering is the most important thing taking place on earth today. Nothing else compares in magnitude, nothing else compares in importance, nothing else compares in majesty. And if you choose to, if you want to, you can be a big part of it. And if you choose to, if you want to, you can be a big part of it. You can be a big part of something big, something grand, something majestic!” (Worldwide Youth Devotional, June 3, 2018).

Tulley said he heard repeatedly from participants that a gathering was urgently needed. “Those who came told me, ‘I’ve been waiting for this for many years’ or ‘I’ve been wanting this to happen because of what’s going on in the world.’”

From left, Rachel Macdonald, from Highland, Utah; Rachel’s mother, Charlotte Graham, and Charlotte’s sister, Sylvia Spottedelk, both of Duckwater, Nevada; met Charlotte’s granddaughter, Nicole Morago from Mesa, to attend a gathering on March 10, 2023. | Scott P. Adair

Tulley said the pandemic was particularly hard on those living on the reservation and much encouragement and fellowship is needed among the Saints to help each other embrace full activity in the Church again.

“Heavenly Father is waking us up,” he said. “It’s time to gather our people.”

Mario West, who lives in Gilbert and serves as a counselor in the bishopric of the Papago Ward on the Salt River Indian Reservation near Scottsdale, Arizona, which is the oldest, continuous Native American ward in the Church, said his takeaway from the gathering is: “Despite our differences — cultures we were brought up in, choices that we make and challenges we face — that we are all sons and daughters of our Father in Heaven and we have the opportunity to allow Jesus Christ into our lives.”

Daniel and Cristina Garcia Candiani perform a traditional Mexican dance during event in Mesa, Arizona, on March 10, 2023. | Scott P. Adair

He added: “Events like this bring us closer and show us that we have brothers and sisters, and it can bring us closer to Him. I realize that I have to keep leading and going above and beyond what I think I’m capable of. I have to ask Heavenly Father to please use me, and I need to continue to strive to keep the commandments and live the best I can so I can continue to serve.”

Sydney Flame, from the Arizona Yuma tribe, who came from Aurora, Colorado, with his wife, Fay, from the New Mexico Laguna Pueblo tribe, said he could feel the Spirit at the gathering.

“That spirit is going to touch everybody’s heart and give them a chance to grow and learn what they can do. A lot of them don’t understand that’s what we’re doing — we’re spreading the gospel. And they don’t know how to do it, so here they can see how others are going to be doing it and they can feel that and go out and not worry about it.”

Darlene Martin, who lives in Mesa, said: “I thought it was wonderful. I think a lot of our Lamanite brothers and sisters really needed this gathering; they need to see that there are other people out there that have challenges, just like them. Even as Church members, we struggle, and we need to come together, learn from each other, encourage each other and give each other hope to continue in this life even though we have trials and tribulations — all kinds of obstacles that are put before us.”

Bill Chemema, of the Hopi Tribe, carries the U.S. flag and leads the Grand Entry at the Mesa Interstake Center on March 10, 2023. | Scott P. Adair

Aimee Adams, of Kihei, Maui, Hawaii, who flew to Arizona for the gathering, said she believed it “was seeing a fulfillment of my Heavenly Father’s love for his lost children of Israel.”

“I am grateful and blessed for my bloodline. My father was Waccamaw Souian Tribe Indian from Bolton, North Carolina. There is a prophecy that descendants of the Lamanites will blossom like a rose, and we are seeing this happen now. We will no longer be invisible to the world. I totally want to be active in this process of attracting other native people into this opportunity of hearing the gospel, understanding history, and finding great peace and joy in our Heavenly Father’s love.

Organizers plan to hold future gatherings. For more information, visit

Rebeka Moreno and Harvey Montes perform a Mexican folk dance during a gathering of Indigenous members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gathered in Mesa, Arizona, on March 10, 2023. | Scott P. Adair
Belle Wright, 13, at left, with her mother, Liz Wright, both from Salt Lake City, perform a Peruvian dance from their native culture, in Mesa, Arizona, on March 10, 2023. | Scott P. Adair
Many dressed in regalia and traditional clothing participated in an evening of dance in Mesa, Arizona, on March 10, 2023. | Scott P. Adair
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