The American Indian Education KnowledgeBase

The American Indian Education KnowledgeBase is an online resource to aid education professionals in their efforts to serve American Indian students and close the achievement gap American Indian students have faced in public, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and other schools.

Task 1: Understand the Assimilationist History of American Indian Education


Guideline: Educators will know about the past United States government policy to use schools to erase the cultural identity of American Indian students under the assumption this would "civilize" them and close the achievement gap.

Overview: Looking back on a 36-year career working for the United States Indian Bureau, Albert H. Kneale in his 1950 autobiography Indian Agent wrote when he started teaching in 1899, he found "the Indian Bureau, at that time, always went on the assumption that any Indian custom was, per se, objectionable, whereas the customs of whites were the ways of civilization." Starting in 1879 with the founding of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, the Indian Bureau set up a system of boarding schools to take Indian youth away from their homes to "civilize" them through an English-only education and make "white men" of them away from the "savage" influences of their families.

In contrast, Kneale noted, "Every tribe with which I have associated is imbued with the idea that it is superior to all other peoples. Its members are thoroughly convinced of their superiority not alone over members of all other tribes but over the whites as well.... I have never known an Indian who would consent to being changed into a white man even were he convinced that such a change could readily be accomplished."

The conflict between the assimilationist goals of U.S. Indian policy and the views of American Indians who wanted to remain "Indian" made American Indian education a problematic experience for many Indians. Individual educators often recognized the negative effects of this conflict on American Indian children. In 1917, the Superintendent of the Ponca Agency in Oklahoma related a story of "an old Ponca Indian, now dead, [who] once said that it takes Chilocco three years to make a White man out of an Indian boy, but that when the boy comes home and the tribe has a feast, it takes but three days for the tribe to make the boy an Indian again."

An investigation of the Indian Bureau initiated by Secretary of the Interior Hubert Work and published in 1928 as The Problem of Indian Administration (popularly known as the Meriam Report) noted, "The philosophy underlying the establishment of Indian boarding schools, that the way to 'civilize' the Indian is to take Indian children, even very young children, as completely as possible away from their home and family life, is at variance with modern views of education and social work, which regard the home and family as essential social institutions from which it is generally undesirable to uproot children."

Indian Boarding Schools: Lesson Plan

This link to the Library of Congress' website provides a teacher lesson plan on Indian Boarding Schools. Recommended for grades 6-9 the lesson plan provides supporting resources, a teacher's guide and a student's page.

Assimilating the American Indian into Civilized Society

From the 1880s through the 1920s, the "assimilationists" saw the non-reservation boarding school as the best way to make young Indian children accept white men's beliefs and value systems. This reference provides an overview of this period.


Assimilation Through Education: Indian Boarding Schools in the Pacific Northwest

An essay by Carolyn J. Marr, an anthropologist and photographs librarian at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle, Washington, providing a historical perspective on Indian boarding schools in the Pacific Northwest.


Carlisle Indian School

This online resource offers a historical overview of the Carlisle Indian School and the students who attended the school.


Chemawa Indian School

This link is to the website of the Chemawa Indian School of Salem, Oregon. This boarding school dates back to the 1870s when the U.S. government authorized a boarding school for Indian children in the northwest. It is the oldest continuing boarding school operating in the United States.


Federal Education Policy & Off-Reservation Schools 1870-1933

This resource from the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University provides an overview of Indian education from 1870-1933. The review offers educators a synopsis of the history of Indian education during that time period.


Ft. Lewis Indian School

This resource provides a historical overview of the Ft. Lewis Indian School, located in southwest Colorado, and students who attended the school.


Health Care to Native Americans: Indian School Hospitals

This National Library of Medicine resource offers an online version of a 1994 exhibit on health care to Native Americans. This document presents Indian school hospitals under the Office of Indian Affairs during the period of 1883 - 1916. It offers educators insights into how health care and health education was provided at the Indian schools.


Indian Boarding School Photo Gallery

As this resource notes, "Administrators of the Indian Boarding Schools took some pride in creating "before" and "after" photographs that showed their power to suppress traditional Native American clothing and culture." The website offers examples of such photographs.

Original Tribal Land Map

This NPR resource features a map of the Original Indian Tribal Lands written in Indian Nation locations and names superimposed over of the map of the United States of America.  This map show where Indian Tribal lands of the Seminole, Choctaw, Cherokee, Shawnee, Blackfoot, Crow, Cheyenne, Sioux, Pawnee, Ute, Navajo, Apache, and Paiute were originally located before Europeans "discovered" America.

Click Here to View the NPR Article: "The Map of Native American Tribes You've Never Seen Before"

Element 1: Foundations and Current Status of American Indian Education

Purpose: To ensure educators working with American Indian students are aware of past efforts at improving the academic achievement of these students, the limited success of these efforts, and current federally funded Indian education programs

Educators will:

  1. Understand past efforts to assimilate Indians through English-only assimilationist schooling and the opposition Indians may show to efforts at forced assimilation.
  2. Know the lasting effects of the Indian New Deal of the 1930s on American Indian education.
  3. Understand the effects of the Indian Self-Determination and Civil Rights movements on American Indian education.
  4. Understand the relationship between Indian tribes, states, and the federal government's Bureau of Indian Education.

Activity 1: Understand the History of American Indian Education

Activity 2: Understand the Current Status of American Indian Education

Element 2: American Indian Cultures

Purpose: Educators will understand the great cultural diversity among American Indians, as well as some of their commonalities. Educators will understand:
  1. What makes someone an American Indian, and what is a tribe today?
  2. What is an extended family?
  3. What is the significance of traditional American Indian values, such as humility, interconnectedness, and reciprocity?
  4. What should all Americans know about American Indians?

Activity 1: Be Aware of Tribal and Family Structures

Activity 2: Understand American Indian Traditional Tribal Values

Element 3: Understanding Your School and Community

Purpose: Assessing American Indian students' academic performance and working with local tribes and other Indian organizations are necessary to develop culturally responsive teaching methods. Educators should:
  • Examine current American Indian student test scores, attendance rates, and dropout rates;
  • Work with tribes and community organizations; and
  • Work with national American Indian organizations and the National Indian Education Association.

Activity 1: Take a Snapshot of Your School and Community

Activity 2: Work With and Involve Community and Parents

Element 4: Use Culturally Responsive Teaching Methodologies

Purpose: Some research suggests one reason for the achievement gap faced by American Indian students is cultural conflicts between American Indian homes and schools. Accordingly, culturally responsive teaching methodologies should address:
  • American Indian learning styles;
  • Indianizing curriculum;
  • Ethnomathematics and ethnoscience;
  • American Indian charter and magnet schools; and
  • Language revitalization.

Activity 1: Helping American Indian Children to Learn

Activity 2: Integrate American Indian History and Culture into School Curriculum

Activity 3: The Role of American Indian Charter and Magnet Schools

Activity 4: Teaching Indigenous Languages