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.

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.

Task 1: Understand Traditional Tribal Values

Guideline: Traditional American values sometimes stressed in classrooms may conflict with traditional tribal values Indian students may bring from home. Educators may stress the importance of students having high self-esteem, however the values of many tribes stress the importance of humility. American Indian students may be taught to be quiet when they are around adults and not to show off. They may be embarrassed if publicly praised and want to "stand in" rather than "stand out" among their peers. In addition, traditional American values tend to stress individualism over group responsibility. One student helping another may be considered cheating by an educator, although the student may well be exhibiting the important tribal values of generosity and sharing. Educators understanding these tribal values are able to more fully appreciate how to interact with their American Indian students.

The Ways

The Ways, an online educational resource for grade 6-12 students, explores contemporary Native culture and life.

Tribal Consultation Handbook: Background Materials for Tribal Consultations on the 2020 Census

This handbook was created as a tool to help tribal leaders prepare for the U.S. Census Bureau’s consultations on the 2020 Census. This tool contains background materials and information on the following elements of the upcoming census: Enumeration (the act of counting a population), Communications
Partnerships, Classification and tabulation of response data, Geography, Recruitment for census jobs,  This handbook also responds to common concerns about participation in the census, provides a brief history of the census within American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) populations, identifies the changes that are planned for the 2020 Census, introduces the American Community Survey (ACS) and the Data Dissemination Program, and provides contact information for Census Bureau regional offices. This document provides information to help tribal leaders make informed decisions and join the discussion about census operations in preparation for the 2020 Census.

Cultural Values

Various lists of contrasting cultural values between American Indians and Euro-American immigrants can be found in articles, books and on the web. As Hap Gilliland notes in his book Teaching the Native American, "none of the generalizations in these lists apply to any one person from either group, but they are something to think about when one observes and works with students."

Connecting with Native Americans

This link to the National Park Service's website provides information to American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians about the National Park Service Cultural Resource programs.

Indian Pride 103 Video: Tribal Values and Traditions

Indian Pride 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: "Spirituality—Medicine for the Soul" by Dr. William LoneFight, Sisseton Wahpeton College, SD  Creek Nation, OK, Pat Leading Fox Pawnee Nation, OK  Michael Marchand, Chairman Colville Tribe, WA Bruce Bozsum, Chairman Mohegan Tribe, CT, Dr. Henrietta Mann; Montana State University Cheyenne Arapaho Tribes of OK Joseph Fire Crow; Storyteller/Performer Northern Cheyenne Tribe, MT, A Northern Cheyenne Traditional Flute Artist

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.

Symbol Dictionary

This resources provides a listing of common symbols used in American Southwestern Indian arts with their typical cultural meanings.

Symbols of Indigenous Peoples

The Manataka American Indian Council provides an overview about the symbols of the American Indian.

Traditional American Indian Tribal Leadership

This link is to a document describing the basic values surrounding the American Indian tribal approach to leadership.

Wisdom of the Elders

As noted at its website, the "Wisdom of the Elders Radio series offers a series of programs addressing Historical Intro, Elder Wisdom, Speaking Native, Sacred Landscape, Tribal Rhythms, Health and Healing, Artists Circle, and Turtle Island Storytellers."

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.

America's Native Prisoners of War (VIDEO)

In this 2010 video, while challenging us with stunning images, Aaron Huey relates the fight for survival on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Aaron began photographing on Pine Ridge Reservation as part of a story on poverty in America. However, the story has captured his passion for five years. A quintessential example of the failures of the reservation system, one cannot turn away from what we see at Pine Ridge Reservation.

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.

Four Directions Teachings (VIDEO)

This website offers videos discussing culture and values of five First Nations in Canada (Blackfoot, Cree, Ojibwe, Mohawk, and M'ikmaq). As noted at its website, "Four Directions Teachings celebrates Indigenous oral traditions by honoring the process of listening with intent as each elder or traditional teacher shares a teaching from their perspective on the richness and value of cultural traditions from their nation."

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.

Inside an Apache Rite of Passage Into Womanhood (Video)

For the Mescalero Apache Tribe, girls are not recognized as women until they have undergone the "Sunrise Ceremony", an ancient, coming-of-age ceremony that lasts for four days. VICE was granted rare access to the ceremony for Julene Geronimo, the great, great grand-daughter of renowned Apache leader, Geronimo. VICE followed Julene through each day of her arduous rite-of-passage in order to better understand what womanhood means for the Apache tribe, and how these ceremonies play a significant role in preserving a way of life that almost became extinct.

Thriving in Indian Country: What's in the Way and How Do We Overcome? (Video)

In this 2017 TEDx video presentation, Dr. Anton Treuer, Professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University, gives a focused look at mascots, microaggressions, and helping Native Americans thrive. Dr. Treuer states, "It can’t be a recipe for a healthy nation if our largest demographic of kids is only getting to the finish line a little over half the time. Somehow, we’re going to have to start listening to other perspectives.”  An author of 14 books, Dr. Treuer has a BA from Princeton University and an MA and PhD from the University of Minnesota. He is Editor of the Oshkaabewis Native Journal, the only academic journal of the Ojibwe language. Throughout the world, Dr. Treuer has shared the following presentations: 'Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians but Were Afraid to Ask', 'Cultural Competence & Equity, Strategies for Addressing the “Achievement” Gap', and 'Tribal Sovereignty, History, Language, and Culture'. 

Ute Wisdom, Language and Creation Story (VIDEO)

In this 2016 video, Larry Cesspooch shares his thoughts on the Ute Indian people today and shares Ute wisdom, including the Creation Story.  Larry Cesspooch, who is a citizen of the Ute Indian Nation/Tribe, is also a filmmaker, a story-teller, and a military veteran who served in Vietnam.

Vine Deloria Jr. on Spiritual Yearning in the West (VIDEO)

With the 2001 film, 'In the Light of Reverence', still enjoying widespread use in classrooms around the world, the producers are heartened that the film has withstood the test of time. In June 1997, they were fortunate to film a rare interview with the renowned, beloved Native American intellectual Vine Deloria Jr. (1933-2005). Mr. Deloria is well known for his books, 'Custer Died for Your Sins', and 'God is Red'. Producers went back to the vault and created four extended film clips from their rare, four-hour interview: 'Vine Deloria Jr. — Spiritual Yearning in the West'; in which Vine Deloria Jr. talks about Native American struggles to safeguard their spiritual practices from outsiders.

What It Means To Be A Navajo Woman (Video)

In this 2010 TEDx video, Jolyana Bitsuie shares her journey becoming Miss Navajo Nation in 2001-2002. As a young girl, Jolyana remembers moving away from the Navajo culture during her formative years as a high school student in Phoenix, Arizona. Two days after winning Miss Navajo Nation, the tragedy of September 11th occurred. Tribal leaders asked Jolyana to bring encouragement and pride to the United States from the Navajo Nation.  So, she spent the next year representing the Navajo Nation across the United States. As Miss Navajo, Jolyana shared how she was the representation of her mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers, and communicated the importance of knowing who you are as an individual. Today, Jolyana teaches urban Navajos to keep their language alive, and be proud of their roots, in order to ensure the survival of Navajo language and culture.

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.

Indian Pride 105 Video: Culture, Traditions & Celebrations

This 2011 Indian Pride 105 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 View of American Indian Culture, Traditions and Celebrations", Oklahoma Pawnee Nation Storyteller tells "Why You Should Listen To Your Parents", and a performance by Eyabay; Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians of Minnesota, and the Midwest Traditional Drum Group and Dancers.

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 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.