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 3: Learn About the Indian New Deal of the 1930s

Guideline: Educators will know how the 1928 Meriam Report led to a change in the U.S. Government's Indian education policy, starting with the Indian New Deal in the 1930s and the passage of the Indian Reorganization and Johnson O'Malley Acts in 1934.

Overview: The Indian Bureau's success in assimilating American Indians into American "civilization" was increasingly criticized in the 1920s, and the 1928 Meriam Report confirmed those criticisms. With the change in administration brought on by the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt as president, the Bureau's leading critic, John Collier, was put in charge of the Bureau in 1933. He remained Commissioner of Indian Affairs until 1945--the longest serving Commissioner in U.S. history.

In 1920, John Collier observed the Taos Pueblo Red Deer Dance. He found in the dance a power for living which, "If our modern world should be able to recapture... the earth's natural resources and web of life would not be irrevocably wasted within the twentieth century which is the prospect now. True democracy, founded in neighborhoods and reaching over the world, would become the realized heaven on earth.... [Modern society has] lost that passion and reverence for human personality and for the web of life and the earth which the American Indians have tended as a central sacred fire." Collier thought, "Assimilation, not into our culture but into modern life, and preservation and intensification of heritage are not hostile choices, excluding one another, but are interdependent through and through.... It is the ancient tribal, village, communal organization which must conquer the modern world."

Under Collier's leadership, Congress passed the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, which gave tribes more self-governance, and the Johnson O'Malley Act, which provided funding to public schools to educate American Indian students. In 1936, Willard Beatty, President of the Progressive Education Association, became the Bureau's Education Director. Beatty, who served until 1952, promoted more culturally sensitive policies and educational methods in Indian schools. The revised 1938 introduction to the Civil Service Examination for positions in the Indian School Service highlighted the importance of giving "students an understanding and appreciation of their tribal lore, art, music, and community organization." In his memoirs, Collier noted he and Beatty "intended that school life become bilingual, and that the schools should serve adult and child alike."

Indian Law Reviews

This Tribal Law and Policy Institute website explores American Indian Tribal laws and policies from the Mitchell Hamline Law Review, which is a quarterly, student-edited journal founded in 1974.  The Tribal Law and Policy Institute also publishes timely articles of regional, national and international interest for legal practitioners, scholars, and lawmakers from this law review.

INDIAN REORGANIZATION ACT (1934) - The Living New Deal

President Roosevelt signed the Indian Reorganization Act (also called the Wheeler-Howard Act) on June 18, 1934. This website explores the Indian Reorganization Act, which was designed, “To conserve and develop Indian lands and resources; to extend to Indians the right to form business and other organizations; and to establish a credit system for Indians; to grant certain rights of home rule to Indians; to provide for vocational education for Indians."

*NEW* Indigenous Languages Articles

This website hosts a collection of articles focusing on Teaching Indigenous Languages by Northern Arizona University Professor Jon Reyhner, Ed.D.

Early Reform Efforts

The early Indian reform efforts were pushed by John Collier of the American Indian Defense Association. This resource summarizes those efforts and their results.

Perspectives on the Indian Reorganization Act

From History Matters, this resource offers links to three differing views on the impact of Indian Reorganization Act. The interviews are available in printed and audio form.

Records of the National Congress of American Indians 1933-1990

This 2015 Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian report focuses on the records of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), which reflect the operations of their Washington, DC office.  These papers primarily cover the period of 1943 - 1990, although some document pre-dating NCAI are present. The bulk of the material relates to legislation, lobbying, and NCAI's interactions with various government bodies.

The 1930s

This resource from the American Indian Education Foundation summarizes the focus on native culture and the development of the Indian division of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

America's Great Indian Nations (VIDEO)

This 2013 documentary published by Questar Entertainment is the first comprehensive history of six great Indian nations, dramatically filmed on location at their native tribal lands across America, using reenactments, archival footage, maps and original music. The story of the Iroquois, Seminole, Shawnee, Navajo, Cheyenne, and Lakota Sioux Nations unfold in their struggle to protect their lands, cultures, and freedoms.

American Indian Activist Russell Means Video of 1989 Speech to U.S. Congress

This 1989 video features the Legendary Native American Indian activist Russell Means, (November 10, 1939 - October 22, 2012), as he harshly criticizes the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and Indian tribal leadership of reservations. 

American Indians Confront "Savage Anxieties" (VIDEO)

As part of the $585 billion defense bill for 2015, Congress passed a measure that would give lands sacred to American Indians in Arizona to a foreign company. In this 2014 PBS video interview, Bill Moyer speaks with Robert A. Williams Jr., a professor specializing in American Indian law, about how such deals are a part of American Indian's tragic history of dispossession.

Native American Films for Public Broadcasting and Education

This Vision Maker Media website offers both the resources to create a Native American film for public broadcasting, and a searchable gallery of Native American films such as: A Blackfeet Encounter, A Native American Night Before Christmas, A Tattoo On My Heart, Aboriginal Architecture, the Apache 8, and Aleut Story.  The search feature can drill down to the 'Initiative or Areas of Interest' along with a 'Tribe or Group selection'. Some films have educational guides and/or viewer discussion guides for educational lesson plans.

Surviving Disappearance, Re-Imagining & Humanizing Native Peoples (VIDEO)

In this 2013 video, Matika Wilbur, one of the Pacific Northwest's leading photographers, asks her audience to think about how images of Native Americans in mainstream media is false.  As a national and international artist whose photos are exhibited extensively in regional, national, and international venues such as the Seattle Art Museum, the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, The Tacoma Art Museum, the Royal British Columbia Museum of Fine Arts, and the Nantes Museum of Fine Arts in France, Matika explains how becoming a certified teacher at Tulalip Heritage High School, providing inspiration for the youth of her own indigenous community.

What the Sale of Manhattan Doesn't Tell Us About Native Americans (VIDEO)

In this 2014 TedX video, T.M. Rives believes our understanding of the Native Americans that inhabited the New York area is encapsulated in a single story; the sale of Manhattan, NY for $24. Encoded in this story and the symbols that represent it are fundamental misconceptions about the native population. Thorough analysis and often very funny deconstruction of this myth and its imagery, Rives gives us a much deeper and more valuable look at the complex culture Europeans discovered when they settled New York City.

Successfully Educating Urban American Indian Students: An Alternative School Format

This 2003 Journal of American Indian Education (V42, Issue 3) explores an educator who stepped away from the status quo of traditional high school teaching methods and created an educational haven for American Indian students in this case study.

The Relocation of Native American Indians (VIDEO)

This 2009 PBS video explains why most Native Americans do not live on reservations. This is largely due to the fact that, in the 1950's, the U.S. government thought one way to solve the 'Indian problem' was to relocate Indians from the reservation to larger cities. Over 100,000 Indians were relocated in just 15 years.

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.