The American Indian Education KnowledgeBase

Element 1: Foundations and Current Status of American Indian Education

Purpose: To ensure educators working with American Indian students are aware of past efforts at improving the academic achievement of these students, the limited success of these efforts, and current federally funded Indian education programs

Educators will:

  1. Understand past efforts to assimilate Indians through English-only assimilationist schooling and the opposition Indians may show to efforts at forced assimilation.
  2. Know the lasting effects of the Indian New Deal of the 1930s on American Indian education.
  3. Understand the effects of the Indian Self-Determination and Civil Rights movements on American Indian education.
  4. Understand the relationship between Indian tribes, states, and the federal government's Bureau of Indian Education.

Activity 1: Understand the History of American Indian Education

Activity 2: Understand the Current Status of American Indian Education

Element 2: American Indian Cultures

Purpose: Educators will understand the great cultural diversity among American Indians, as well as some of their commonalities. Educators will understand:
  1. What makes someone an American Indian, and what is a tribe 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: Be Aware of Tribal and Family Structures

Activity 2: Understand American Indian Traditional Tribal Values

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.

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.


Helping Younger Generations Face Challenges

This wikipedia reference offers reflections on the role of the elders in the American Indian communities. It gives suggestions on how the Elders' knowledge and experience can be blended into the education of younger American Indians.


Humility vs. Self Esteem: What Do Indian Students Need?

This article by Dr. Jon Reyhner, Northern Arizona University, explores the virtue of humility in relation to self-esteem, pointing out how self-esteem is primarily a western value. Through a series of vignettes he illustrates how traditional values have sustained Indian communities through the trials they have endured.


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."

Four Directions Teachings

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."

Element 3: Understanding Your School and Community

Purpose: Assessing American Indian students' academic performance and working with local tribes and other Indian organizations are necessary to develop culturally responsive teaching methods. Educators should:
  • Examine current American Indian student test scores, attendance rates, and dropout rates;
  • Work with tribes and community organizations; and
  • Work with national American Indian organizations and the National Indian Education Association.

Activity 1: Take a Snapshot of Your School and Community

Activity 2: Work With and Involve Community and Parents

Element 4: Use Culturally Responsive Teaching Methodologies

Purpose: Some research suggests one reason for the achievement gap faced by American Indian students is cultural conflicts between American Indian homes and schools. Accordingly, culturally responsive teaching methodologies should address:
  • American Indian learning styles;
  • Indianizing curriculum;
  • Ethnomathematics and ethnoscience;
  • American Indian charter and magnet schools; and
  • Language revitalization.

Activity 1: Helping American Indian Children to Learn

Activity 2: Integrate American Indian History and Culture into School Curriculum

Activity 3: The Role of American Indian Charter and Magnet Schools

Activity 4: Teaching Indigenous Languages