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 3: Be Familiar with the Structure of Tribes, Clans, Bands, and Extended Families

Guideline: American Indians have been identified in a number of ways. While "tribe" has been the most historically common label applied by "outsiders," there are other forms of communal organization used by American Indians. Educators of native students should be aware of these forms of communal organization.

Overview: American Indian groups can be divided in a number of ways. Historically, the most common division applied was the tribe. A tribe was an indigenous group that shared a common language, common beliefs, and who saw themselves as sharing a common heritage. In their own language, they often named themselves "the people." Today, many tribes call themselves nations because they fit the basic definition of a nation. The term "First Nations" is used commonly to refer to the various indigenous groups living in Canada, and some tribal governments in the United States, e.g, the Navajos, have voted to refer to themselves as nations.

Most American Indian tribes or nations have internal subdivisions. One of the most common is the clan, which consists of members who are related to each other theoretically or actually. Most tribes are matriarchal, where a child is "born into" one's mother's clan. However, the Omaha, Mesquakie, Fox, Ojibwa, Yumans, and Pimans are patriarchal, tracing their clan ancestry through their fathers. Typically, one cannot marry a person of the same clan, and sometimes, one cannot marry a person of either parent's clan. In some tribes, clans own property, perform ceremonies, and control political offices. Some tribes have only a few clans, while others may have fifty or more. Members of the same clan are expected to show hospitality to fellow clan members. Tribes that farmed were more likely to have clans than tribes that depended on hunting and gathering.

Sometimes, tribes were also divided into bands and other smaller groups that tended to live and travel together. The term "tribe" often has connotations of being a primitive grouping, but just as indigenous languages can be very sophisticated and complex, so can the social systems of tribes. Some tribes can be very similar to other tribes, speaking dialects of the same language and practicing similar customs. However, they can also be very different from each other with their languages as different as Chinese is from English, and their customs as different as well.

The smallest American Indian groupings are extended families. Many modern American families are "nuclear families" consisting of a mother and/or father and their children, with other relatives such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins sometimes living hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away and having little contact with each other. In contrast, many American Indian families are "extended families," where grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins often live nearby and are in constant contact with each other. All members of the extended family may help with child rearing. In some tribes, uncles have an important role in disciplining their nieces and nephews. In some tribes, an aunt is addressed with the same term of "mother" as a child's biological mother. Educators working with extended families need to know that grandparents, uncles, and aunts may play an important role in their students' lives.

Citizen Powatomi Nation

This Powatomi Nation website offers: News and Events, Culture, Government, Enterprises, Languages and Services. An online self-paced course is offered as well as Culture Teachings, and a Children's course.

Federal and State Recognized Tribes from NCSL

This National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) website lists federally recognized American Indian tribes by each state as well as state recognized tribes.

Six Misconceptions About Native American People - Teen Vogue (VIDEO)

In this November 2016 video, seven Native American girls, (Laurel Cotton, Duannette Reyome, Evannah Moniz-Reyome, Kiera Thompson, Wacantkiya Mani Win Eagle, and Wanbli Waunsila Win Eagle), debunk the common misconceptions about their culture.

500 Nations

This website offers a complete list of U.S. federally recognized, (and non-recognized), American Indian Nations by State.

America's Great Indian Nations - Full Documentary

This 2013 Questar documentary profiles six of the major Native American tribes that were defeated and subdued as part of the settling of the United States. With reenactments, clarifying maps, artwork, and landscape scenery, this program features the Iroquois, a confederacy comprised of several Indian tribes: the Seminoles in Florida, who welcomed escaped slaves and fought three major wars with the United States before meeting their ultimate defeat; the Shawnee, fierce Ohio Algonquians who allied with the French against the British; the Navajo, a farming people who today are the largest remaining Native American tribe; the Cheyenne, a nomadic Plains Indian tribe that depended on the American bison for sustenance; and the Lakota Sioux, the dominant Sioux tribe comprised of the bands called Oglala, Brule, Hunkpapa, and Minneconjou.

How Clans Came to Be

This story conveys the Creek legend of how clans came to be. It explains the origins of the Creek clans and how they were to be structured.

Intergovernmental Affairs: Tribal Affairs

This website highlights the Census Bureau's relationship with tribal governments and provides important American Indian Alaska Native (AIAN) and tribal resources. The Census Bureau collects data for the AIAN population and publishes specific counts, estimates, and statistics.

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."

Top 50 Questions About American Indian Tribes

This Californian Indian Education site explores the Top 50 Questions about American Indian tribes.

Understanding the Relational Worldview in Indian Families

This NICWA resource offers an overview of how Indian families view the world. This view encompasses four areas addressing context, mind, spirit and body. Though authored for Indian child welfare workers the article provides a useful perspective for classroom teachers towards appreciating the perspective Indian families possess.

All My Relations - A Traditional Lakota Approach to Health Equity (VIDEO)

This 2014 TEDx talk, produced independently of the TED Conferences, features Dr. Donald Warne, MD, MPH who is an Oglala Lakota from Kyle, South Dakota living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.  Dr. Warne is also the Director of the Master of Public Health Program at North Dakota State University. Dr. Warne's Lakota name is Pejuta Wicasa, which means “Medicine Man”, and he comes from a long line of traditional Lakota healers.  Dr. Warne  received his MD from Stanford University and his Master of Public Health from Harvard University. This discussion blends modern health issues with traditional Lakota philosophy and promotes cultural humility in human relations. Dr. Warne also serves as the Senior Policy Advisor to the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen's Health Board.

Building Resilient Communities: A Moral Responsibility

In this July 2015 TEDx video, Nick Tilson, Oglala Lakota Nation citizen and the founding Executive Director of the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation, states working together creates empowerment. Nick Tilsen has over 15 years of experience in working with non-profits and Tribal Nations on projects that have a social mission. Thunder Valley CDC is a community development organization that is working with the local grassroots people and national organizations in the development of a sustainable regenerative community, that creates jobs, builds homes and creates a National model for alleviating poverty in America’s poorest communities.

Changing the Way We See Native Americans (VIDEO)

This 20-minute 2014 TEDx talk produced independently of the TED Conferences, features Matika Wilbur and her 2013 project of massive scope: to photograph members of each Federally recognized tribe in the United States. "My dream," Wilbur says, "is that our children are given images that are more useful, truthful, and beautiful." Matika Wilbur—photographer, activist, writer, and educator—undertook Project 562, an endeavor of unprecedented impact and scope. Project 562 seeks to photograph every Federally recognized tribe in the United States and reveal in a brilliant spectrum of art, media, and curricula, the rich and complex twenty-first century image and reality of contemporary Native Americans. A simple, heartfelt idea forms Wilbur's work: "By exposing the astonishing variety of the Indian presence and reality at this juncture, we will build cultural bridges, abandon stereotypes, and renew and inspire our national legacy."

Educating the Next Generation of Native Leaders (2011)

In his 2011 speech, Education Secretary Arne Duncan shares his visits and continued relationship with the Next Generation of Native Leaders while celebrating Tribal Colleges and Universities as well as Promise Neighborhoods.

Growing Native Oklahoma Video: Red People

Growing Native is a 2018 four-part series focusing on reclaiming traditional knowledge and food as ways to address critical issues of health and wellness, the environment, and human rights. Growing Native focuses on Tribes, stories and events from four geographic regions including: Alaska, Oklahoma, Northwest and Great Lakes.  This March 2018 episodes focuses on Oklahoma, which is home to thirty-nine federally recognized tribes. Host Moses Brings Plenty, (Oglala Lakota), guides this episode of Growing Native on a journey through Oklahoma’s past and present. What he discovers among the many faces of Oklahoma culture is the determination, values and respect that tribes have brought to this land, once called Indian Territory.

NOTE:  Goals for Growing Native series is to reclaim Native Indian narrative sovereignty and showcase the stories of powerful Tribal leaders who are on the forefront of returning to their traditional healthy diets and activities. Visit people who harvest wild rice, camas and herd bison. Learn how language revitalization is strengthening Tribal ties to their place on the planet. See how arts and culture play a role in the Tribal economy, as well as cultural preservation.

In Whose Honor?

Washington Redskins, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Chief Illiniwek are Indian mascots and nicknames which have historically been first draft picks in American collegiate and professional sports. However, for Charlene Teters, a Spokane Indian, transplanting cultural rituals onto the field is a symbol of disrespect. In this documentary, Jay Rosenstein follows Teters' evolution from mother and student into a leading voice against the merchandising of Native American symbol, and shows the lengths fans will go to preserve their mascots.

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.

Urban Rez (VIDEO)

In 2013, Rocky Mountain PBS presented "Urban Rez," a nationally distributed documentary exploring the lasting legacy and modern-day effects of the Voluntary Relocation Program and policies that encouraged American Indians to leave their homelands and relocate to urban areas across the country from 1952 to 1973.  Additional videos include: the BIA, Spirituality, Language Loss, Education, Culture, Community vs Individual, and Boarding Schools.

*NEW video* Native American Teens: Who We Are (2012)

What's it like to be a young Native American today? This 2012 video feature teens from throughout the United States share their stories in this In the Mix special co-hosted by rap star and film actor Litefoot. Shot around the country, the program features a champion lacrosse player from western New York, a Grammy-nominated flute player from rural Idaho, and short films made by teens in Alaska and Washington State. A group of young leaders from cities and reservations also weigh in on the issues that affect them every day—common misconceptions and stereotypes about Native Americans, how they balance traditional culture with contemporary concerns, and their hopes for the future. "There is a definite need for materials that help Native American teens connect with their heritage as a means of gaining focus and motivation in their own lives...Recommended."—Video Librarian

*NEW* The Difference Between a Tribe and a Band

This Encyclopedia Britannica website focuses on explaining the difference between an American Indian tribe and an American Indian band.

Indian Pride 107 Video: Myths and Real Truths

This 2011 Indian Pride TV series, showcases the unique lifestyles of North America’s 560 Indian Nations. Each episode of Indian Pride includes a mini-documentary, an in-studio discussion, and performances of historical and original presentations.  In this episode: the Myths and Truths concerning Native Americans are discussed.

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.