American Indian Education KnowledgeBase

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

Task 2: Understand the Assimilationist History of American Indian Education

Guideline: Educators will learn about the historic U.S. governmental policy utilizing militarized and mission boarding schools to indoctrinate and eradicate the cultural identity of American Indian children and destabilize tribal family structure to force cultural assimilation and to “civilize” American Indian tribal people.

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."

In the White Man's Image (Video & Quiz)

This website summarized, "As settlers colonized the United States, they intruded on the culture and the land of Native Americans. Any anger or hostile behavior was regarded as proof of inferiority or savagery on the part of the American Indian.  The only way to remove this savage behavior was to recreate the native population in the white man's image."  'In the White Man's Image' video, set in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1875, reflects upon the ambitious experiment: to teach Native Americans to become imitations of white men. With the blessing of Congress, the first school for Indians was established in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, to continue this "civilizing" mission. Quiz/Flash Cards/Study Guide/Lesson Plan 

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.

1819 - 2013 A History of American Indian Education

This Education Week website, by Dr. Jon Reyhner and Education Week staff, explores the historic timeline of American Indian Education from 1819 to 2013.

Affirming identity: The Role of Language and Culture in American Indian Education

This Cogent Education Journal (Vol 4, 2017 Issue 1), authored by Dr. Jon Reyhner, explores the role of language and culture in American Indian Education also with respect to assimilation, human rights, language, and cultural revitalization.


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.

Assimilation through Education

This Library of Congress website offers historical context, a teaching guide, and online resources addressing the assimilation of American Indians through education.

Carlisle Indian School - U.S.

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

Chemawa Indian School - U.S.

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. Chemawa is the oldest of four off-reservation continuing boarding schools operating in the United States. The schools share a complicated history, dating back to the late 19th century, when their goal was to assimilate Native children into American society, sometimes by force. Through the last century, federal and tribal leaders refocused schools like Chemawa to support teenagers’ Native culture and prepare them for college and careers.  

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/College - U.S.

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 - U.S.

This U.S. 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 - U.S.

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.

The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition

This National Native American Boarding School Health Coalition website states, "The truth about the United States Indian boarding school policy has largely been written out of the history books. There were nearly 500 government-funded, church-run Indian Boarding schools across the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries. Indian children were forcibly abducted by government agents, sent to schools hundreds of miles away, and beaten, starved, or otherwise abused when they spoke their native languages.  The social, emotional, spiritual, and cultural devastation from boarding school experiences have passed down to Native American individuals, families, communities and Tribal Nations today."

And Now We Rise (VIDEO)

This 2018 website features a documentary film introducing a portrait of Samuel Johns, a young Athabaskan hip hop artist, and founder of the Forget Me Not Facebook Group, which connects homeless, far flung family members, and displaced people in Alaska, and the United States.  Samuel is an activist for a cultural renaissance, as he heals from his own legacy of historical trauma. The producer states, "the general public needs to understand the impact historical trauma has had on our indigenous people, and how they are becoming involved and becoming the change. The change is brewing, and it’s hopeful."

And Our Mothers Cried - U.S. Boarding School (VIDEO)

For several generations of Native American children, including Chickasaws, the reality of the late 19th and early 20th centuries meant separation from their families and indoctrination into a culture that wasn’t their own. This was the boarding school era, with the infamous slogan, "Kill the Indian. Save the Man." Children were sent to distant boarding schools to learn skills that would assimilate them into white culture. The schools emphasized labor-intensive trades and a basic education focused on English, with most students prohibited from speaking their native language. Separation from family and community supported the goal to erase their way of life. In this documentary, you’ll meet some of the Chickasaws who lived through the boarding school era. Now tribal elders, they say the boarding school experience was filled with unforgettable moments – some good and some they wish they could forget.

Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories

Away From Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories is the updated installation of the long-running Boarding School exhibition at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. Since opening in 2000, 'Remembering Our Indian School Days: The Boarding School Experience', has become the Heard Museum’s most thematically powerful exhibition. Over the past two decades, interest in American Indian boarding schools and scholarship about the subject has increased.  The initial embedded video entitled, "What is Education?", focuses on how American Indian Boarding Schools have had longstanding ill-effects on Native American Indian Education.

Canandian Residential School Survivor Talks About the Electric Chair at St. Anne's Residential School (VIDEO)

In this 2018 video, St. Anne’s Residential School survivor, Chris Metatawabin, talks about his experiences from 1960 to 1968 at the notorious school that had an electric chair.

Indian Boarding School Plan: U.S. Government and Christians (VIDEO)

This 2008 video features the plan for American Indian Boarding Schools as the US Government, and Christians, develop a joint plan to rob Indian children of their culture. "Missionaries are soldiers in disguise."

Indian Education: Assimilation, Segregation or Extermination? The Carlisle School U.S. ( Part Two Video)

This 2017 video features Part 2 of a Power Point presentation on American Indian History coursework featuring the Carlisle Indian Boarding School.

Indian Education: Assimilation, Segregation, or Extermination? Carlisle PA U.S. (Part One VIDEO)

This March 21, 2017 video follows an educational Power Point presentation of American Indian coursework regarding American Indian Education, History and Boarding Schools.

Indian School Whisperer, Dave Archambault, Sr. (VIDEO)

In this 2013 video, Dave Archambault, Sr., states that existing and past schooling policies of the U.S. government are effectively genocide; wasting the customs and beliefs of First Americans.  Born on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, Dave Leon Archambault received the Lakota name, 'Itazipo Wakinyan' meaning Thunder Bow. He holds a Masters Degree in Education Administration from Penn State University. Mr. Archambault has worked as an educator, an administrator, and a consultant at Indian schools and tribal colleges throughout his career.

It Was Bad, or It Was Good: Alaska Natives in Past Boarding Schools

In this 2008, Volume 47, Issue 3, of the Journal of American Indian Education, author Diane Hirsberg shares boarding school experiences collected from over 60 former Native American Alaskan Indians who attended boarding schools, or participated in an urban boarding home program run by either the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), private churches or the State of Alaska. Taken from rural communities that lacked either primary or secondary schools, former boarding school students' experiences reveal a glimpse of both the positive and negative effects of past boarding schools. Many spoke with ambivalence about their boarding school experience, finding both good and bad elements. This article presents some of the findings of this study.

KUPER ISLAND ~ Canadian Residential School Survivors Documentary (Curriculum & Material Grades 5, 10-12) VIDEO

Published in 2013, this documentary, 'KUPER ISLAND: Return to the Healing Circle', Canadian Residential School Survivors provide an in-depth recounting of daily life at Kuper Island, which is a remote island off the coast of British Columbia. They called it Alcatraz.  For almost a century, hundreds of Coast Salish children were sent to Kuper Island, where they were forbidden from speaking their native language, forced to deny their cultural heritage, and often faced physical and sexual abuse. Some died trying to escape on logs across the water. Many more died later, trying to escape their memories.  In the past, British Columbia students did not typically learn about residential schools until Grade 11 social studies.  Currently, curriculum material is available for Grades 5, 10, 11 and 12.

Montana Mosaic: Native American Indian Boarding Schools (VIDEO)

This 2006 video features 'Montana Mosaic: Indian Boarding Schools', directed by Gita Saedi Kiely.  The motto, "Kill the Indian, save the man.", created by Captain Henry Pratt sums up the American government's Native American Indian policy during the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Recounting the Horrors of St. Anne's Residential School - Canada (VIDEO)

In this 2018 video, St. Anne's Residential School, located in Canada, survivor Leo Ashamock describes the abuse he experienced at the notorious residential school at Fort Albany First Nation in northeastern Ontario, and the fear of being put in an electric chair.

Tribal Leaders Speak: The State of Indian Education (2010)

This 2010 Department of Education report details the consultations with Tribal Leaders in Indian Country by the Department of Education, an action which had never occurred before. The Obama administration committed to serve Native American Indian students better by collaborating with the people who know their students best; tribal leaders. During these consultations, tribal leaders addressed the following: failure to fulfill historic trust responsibilities; the "disconnect" between federal, state, and local government; insufficient funding; stressed the need to recruit and retain highly effective teachers and leaders; their need to collect and analyze student data; the impact of poverty and need for comprehensive student support; and the need for seamless cradle-to-career pipeline.

Unseen Tears: The Native American Boarding School Experience in Western New York ( Part 1 of 3) VIDEO

This 2013 video features 'Unseen Tears: The Native American Boarding School Experience in Western New York documentary'. Boarding schools in the United States, and Residential schools in Canada, have had a lasting impact on Native American communities.  Native American families in Western New York and Ontario continue to feel the impact of the Thomas Indian School and the Mohawk Institute. Survivors speak of traumatic separation from their families, abuse, and a systematic assault on their language and culture.

Unseen Tears: The Native American Boarding School Experience in Western New York (Part 2 of 3) VIDEO

This 2013 video features 'Unseen Tears: The Native American Boarding School Experience in Western New York' documentary, and is the 2nd part of a 3 part documentary series.  Boarding schools in the United States, and Residential schools in Canada have had a lasting impact on Native American communities. Native American families in Western New York and Ontario continue to feel the impact of the Thomas Indian School and the Mohawk Institute.  Survivors speak of traumatic separation from their families, abuse, and a systematic assault on their language and culture.

Unseen Tears: The Native American Boarding School Experience in Western New York (Part 3 of 3) VIDEO

This 2013 video is Part 3 is the last of a 3-part series of the documentary, 'Unseen Tears Native American Boarding School Experience in Western New York'.  This 2013 documentary tells the story of Native American Indian Boarding schools in the United States, as well as Residential Schools in Canada. Native American Indian Boarding School survivors speak of traumatic separation from their families, abuse, and a systematic assault on their language and culture.  Thus, American Boarding Schools have had a lasting impact on Native American students, families and communities.  Native American families in Western New York and Ontario continue to feel the impact of the Thomas Indian School and the Mohawk Institute. 

Unspoken: America's Native American Boarding Schools (VIDEO)

This 2018 PBS video about Native American Boarding Schools in Utah recounts a dark time in American History and further, takes a moving and insightful look into the history, operation, and legacy of the federal Indian Boarding School system, whose goal was total assimilation of Native Americans at the cost of stripping away Native culture, tradition, and language.

Wawahte: Stories of Residential School Survivors - Canadian (VIDEO)

Wawahte is an educational documentary based on the book, 'Wawahte: Stories of Residential School Survivors' by Robert P. Wells, first published in 2012. Wawahte tells the story of Canadian Indian Residential Schools from the perspective of three of survivors. This documentary is free to be screened for elementary and high school students states author Robert Wells and producer John Sanfilippo, who are available for screenings and discussions via the Wawahte website.

White Man's Way - Genoa Indian School U.S. (1884 - 1934) [VIDEO]

This July 10, 1986, PBS video features the Genoa Indian School in Genoa, Nebraska which opened in Pawnee Indian Country in 1884.  Former Genoa students, teachers and administrators are interviewed in this video offering first-account stories, both good and bad, on what life was like at Genoa Indian School.  Further, the video asks the question, What is in store for future Native American Indian generations?  The answer includes the restoration of Native Indian culture, history in addition to outer world lessons at Haskell Junior College in Lawrence, Kansas; and language at the UMO 'N HA TA'PASKA School.

Death at Residential Schools - Canadian (VIDEO)

This 2015 video recounts the deaths of Native Indian students forced to attend Canadian residential schools.  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its final report in 2015. Among its findings, the report offers more details on the scale of tragedy at residential schools. Thousands of native children died in that system. These findings only begin to show how Native Indian lives were erased, and loving families were changed forever.

Indian Boarding School Abuse - U.S. (VIDEO)

This video, published on Feb 17, 2016, features a Lakota woman, Joanne Tall, as she describes the abuse she received as a 12 year old girl in a "christian" Native American Indian Boarding school.

Into the West - Carlisle Indian School U.S. (VIDEO)

This 10-minute video features a clip from TNT's mini-series "Into the West" featuring what young Native American children went through in the name of education and assimilation. In 1879, American Indian children were forced to become students and attend the Carlisle Indian Boarding School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Life And Death At Chemawa Indian School (U.S.)

This October 2017 OPB article features three students, who came from three different states, and three different tribes to attend Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Oregon. Now, their three mothers are struggling to understand how their children’s promising futures fell apart, and what role the federally run boarding school played. This 2017 article also includes: school handbook, student statistics, incidents at Chemawa from 2010-2017, and federal grant information.

New Heritage Minute Explores Dark History of Canandian Residential Schools (VIDEO)

'The National Show', a 2016 CBC News show, aired this account of how Native Indian students were treated at some of the Native Indian Residential schools in Canada.

Our Spirits Don't Speak English: American Indian Boarding School (VIDEO)

This 2008 video features an excerpt from the film,"Our Spirits Don't Speak English: Indian Boarding School."

Stolen Children – Canadian Residential School Survivors Speak Out (VIDEO)

This video, published online June 2nd, 2015, exemplifies how deeply Canadian Residential Schools affected survivors, their children, and their grandchildren.  Click here for the full story.

What They Took Away - Reflections on Native American Boarding Schools (VIDEO)

This 2015 video features Dennis Banks, co-founder of the American Indian Movement (A.I.M), as he reflects on his experiences with Native American Indian boarding schools, and how his familial relationships were affected.

Element 1: Foundations and Current Status of American Indian Education

Purpose: To ensure educators, in support of American Indian students, understand the historical principles which guides the academic journey of these students, the challenges and barriers which impacts these efforts, and current trends and research which are the basis for Indian education programs today.

Educators will:

  1. Understand the concept of tribal sovereignty and the relationship between Indian tribes, states, and the federal government's Bureau of Indian Education.
  2. Understand past efforts to assimilate Indians through English-only assimilationist schooling and the opposition Indians may show to efforts at forced assimilation.
  3. Know the lasting effects of the Indian New Deal of the 1930s on American Indian education.
  4. Understand the effects of the Red Power Movement, Indian Self-Determination, and United Nations human rights declarations on American Indians and American Indian education.

Activity 1: Understand the History of American Indian Education

American Indian tribes negotiated a multiplicity of treaties with the U.S. government, which then imposed upon them a number of laws and policies to promote the educational development of American Indian children.

Activity 2: Understand the Current Laws, Funding, and Academic Resources for American Indian Students

The federal government has responded to treaty provisions enacted between tribal governments and the United States which required educational support for American Indian children by developing and implementing educational programs in response to the federal trust responsibility of the U.S. Government.  The following Tasks will outline that response to treaty obligations.

Element 2: American Indian Cultures

Purpose: Educators will increase awareness and understanding of the breadth and scope of cultural diversity that exists among American Indian tribal communities, as well as shared values and traditions of American Indian people.

Educators will understand:

  1. What makes someone an American Indian, and what is a tribal nation 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: Understand Tribal and Family Structures

Educators will understand the process of federal recognition of tribes, tribal enrollment, and treaty making that has impacted American Indian tribal people since the founding of the United States. Educators will also learn about the structure and the importance of American Indian tribes, clans, bands, and extended families to American Indians.

Activity 2: Understand American Indian Traditional Tribal Values

Educators will understand and respect the importance of cultural values and traditional concepts which help to shape the mindset of American Indian children and their families.  Educators will understand the complex challenges faced by American Indian children in today’s classroom as a result of conflicting value systems.

Element 3: Understanding Your School and Community

Purpose: Assessing American Indian students’ academic performance and developing culturally-based education approaches in collaboration with local tribes, Indian organizations and Native communities are essential for improved educational opportunities.  Educators should:

  • Examine current American Indian achievement assessments, attendance, dropout and graduation rates;
  • Collaborate with tribes and Native communities, and;
  • Collaborate with national American Indian organizations and the National Indian Education Association (NIEA).

Activity 1: Take a Snapshot of Your School and Community


Activity 2: Work with and Involve Community and Parents

Element 4: Integrate American Indian History, Language, and Culture into School Curriculum

Purpose: Research indicates that it is important to affirm students’ identity and one reason for the academic achievement gap that American Indian students face is that a one-size-fits-all national curriculum represented in textbooks fails to give positive recognition to American Indian histories and cultures. 

Activity 1: Create an American Indian Curriculum

It is important for American Indian and Alaska Native students to have the standard state and national curriculums they are exposed to in school be supplemented with curriculum that reflects their background and the community that they live in.

Activity 2: Teaching Indigenous Languages

Too often, an English-only policy in American schools has suppressed American Indian languages and cultures. The Native American Languages Act passed by U.S. Congress, and signed by President George H. W. Bush in 1990, enforces United States Policy to support, preserve, and protect American Indian languages. Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act  Act of 2006 The 2007 United Nation’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has given further support to that goal. Today, Indigenous peoples are working through Indigenous language immersion schools to revitalize their languages and cultures.


Element 5: Explore Schools Serving American Indian Students

Purpose: Charter and immersion schools are offering American Indians more flexibility in working to improve the education of their children by affording American Indian communities more power to shape the schooling their children receive.


Activity 1: The Role and impact of American Indian Charter and Magnet Schools

Learn about charter and immersion schools and how they can provide alternatives to public, Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools, and tribally controlled schools, allowing American Indian communities to provide more culturally appropriate education for their children.


Activity 2: Discover how Tribal Operated Schools and Indian Charter Schools Relate to One Another

The Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) and mainstream public schools have not been successful in bringing up the average test scores and graduation rates of American Indian students to national averages. Learn how Tribally Operated and Indian Charter Schools are providing alternatives that show promise in improving the academic and life success of American Indian students.


Element 6: Use Culturally Responsive Teaching Methodologies

Purpose: Research suggests one reason for the achievement gap faced by American Indian students is cultural conflicts between American Indian homes and schools. Accordingly, teachers should be prepared to meet the needs of American Indian and other Indigenous students, including using culturally responsive teaching methodologies that incorporate American Indian learning styles, avoiding biased teaching and stereotypes, and addressing the needs of gifted education and other special needs students.

Activity 1: Prepare Educators to Teach American Indian Students

One-size-fits-all educational reforms, despite being somewhat “evidence based”, have left behind many American Indian students. Learn how adjusting teaching methods and materials to fit American Indian students’ cultural and experiential backgrounds can make them more engaged learners and improve their academic performance.