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.

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.

Task 1: Understand Major Federal Legislation Affecting American Indian Education

Guideline: Educators will understand the Bureau of Indian Education's role in education and in the operation of tribal schools derived from generations of treaty obligations by the U.S. Government in return for land cessions by tribal nations.

Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA): Educational Resource Video

This August 2013 video features NARF Executive Director John Echohawk, and Staff Attorney David Gover. This educational resource video was designed for educating state court judges, courts, and judicial educators about the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and Indian Civil Rights Act.

Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968

The resource provides the text of the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968.

Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975

Title 25: Chapter 14: Subchapter II of the US Code of Federal Regulations addresses Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance. This resource provides those regulations.

Title VI — Indian, Native Hawaiian, and Alaska Native Education (ESSA 2016)

This 2016 Department of Education ESSA website states the laws and policies of the United States to fulfill the Federal Government's unique and continuing trust relationship with and responsibility to the Indian people for the education of Indian children. The Federal Government will continue to work with local educational agencies, Indian tribes and organizations, post-secondary institutions, and other entities toward the goal of ensuring that programs that serve Indian children are of the highest quality and provide for not only the basic elementary and secondary educational needs, but also the unique educational and culturally related academic needs of these children.

Indian Child Welfare Act (VIDEO)

This February 2016 video is about the Indian Child Welfare Act, which is part of the Self-Determination and Indian Civil Rights Act, and features video footage obtained from the 'Into the West-Carlisle Indian School' film documentary.

ESSA and Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian Students

This is second in a series of posts on ESSA’s implications for student subgroups. Read the first in the series: What Will ESSA Mean for English Learners?  A large body of research supports the idea that Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian students thrive in instructional environments that honor their unique cultural and linguistic heritages.  Federal education policy is catching on.  The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) promises unprecedented opportunities and funding for incorporating our nation’s many indigenous cultures and languages into public schools serving Native students.

Indian Education Act of 1972

This article from the Journal of Indian Education offers an overview of the Indian Education Act of 1972. The passage of this Act was a major milestone in the history of Indian education.

Missing Threads: The Story of the Wisconsin Indian Child Welfare Act (VIDEO)

This April 2016 video features a film that examines the impact of the phenomenon of the drafting, enacting and implementation of the Wisconsin Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). A culture deprived of its children will not survive. Yet, at one point in our nation's history, an alarming number of Native American children were removed from their homes and placed with non-Native foster and adoptive homes, damaging the thread connecting the child to their family, their language, and their culture. 

Tribal Nations: The Story of Federal Indian Law (2006 Documentary)

This 2006 documentary video, narrated by Jimmy Fall, tells the story of Federal Indian Law, and was also the Winner of a 2006 Telly Award!

Reclaiming Our Children (2013 Documentary)

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) requires that Indian children be placed in Indian homes for foster care or adoption and gives the children's tribe certain rights to participate in the placement procedure. This 2013 documentary is an examination of the Child Welfare System, the Indian Child Welfare Act and the laws that work against it. Prior to 1978, Indian children were being placed in foster care at a nationwide rate 10-20 times higher than non-Native children. These children often lost all connections with their families, extended families, tribes, and cultural heritage. Public Law 95-608, the Federal Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 was passed to remedy the problem of disproportionately large numbers of Indian children being placed in foster care.

Why the Sioux Are Refusing $1.3 Billion (VIDEO)

This 2011 PBS News Hour video claims how members of the Great Sioux Nation could pocket a large sum set aside by the government for taking the resource-rich Black Hills away from the tribes in 1877. But Tribal Leaders say the sacred land was never, and still isn't, for sale.

The Heart of ICWA: Becky (VIDEO)

The Indian Child Welfare Act was born out of the forced removal of one out of every three children from their homes in the late 1970’s. This issue is far from ancient history, as we continue to see the devastating effects of non-compliance with ICWA. This 2016 video features Rebecca's Story.

The Heart of ICWA: Fawn (VIDEO)

This 2016 video is Fawn's Indian Child Welfare Act story.  Data, history, and countless heartbreaking personal stories show that Native families in crisis need ICWA to protect vulnerable children from the harm of being taken from their homes and communities. NICWA will continue to ensure that the Indian Child Welfare Act is followed to keep Native children safe.

The Heart of ICWA: Lukas (VIDEO)

ICWA (Indian Child Welfare Act) is considered the gold standard of child welfare practice. This 2016 video shares Lukas' story and proves keeping any child from their loving extended family that have the ability to care for them is not in their best interest. Children thrive when they know their culture.


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.