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 3: Gather Information About the Local American Indian Tribes

Guideline: Educators who teach American Indian students should develop culturally responsive attitudes and approaches based on the students’ culture, values and heritage.  In doing so, educators will demonstrate a desire to connect with these students and structure Indigenous educational programs that validate the experiences and presence of American Indian students.

*NEW* NCAI Native American Demographics

This National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) website offers a snapshot of American Indian demographics, (from the 2010 U.S. Census), including: population, health disparities, public safety and security, energy on tribal lands, housing and infrastructure, forestry, and education.

*NEW* Southeastern American Indians of Alabama - Lesson Plans

By following the lesson plans and related activities, this website explores how American Indian cultures have existed in Alabama for over 12,000 years. These lesson plans follow from Paleo-Indians, arrived as early as 10,500 B.C., crossing over a land bridge made possible by the Ice Age to the resettling in 1830's to Oklahoma after the Trail of Tears.

Indian Education in Arizona, Nevada, and Utah (2014)

This 2014 WestEd report was created by the West Comprehensive Center (WCC) working with the Arizona Department of Education (ADE), the Nevada Department of Education, and the Utah State Office of Education (USOE).  As a first step, the WCC reviewed state and national law, board rules, and policy decisions related to Indian Education in Arizona, Nevada, and Utah.  WCC also identified prominent organizations that are concerned with improving Indian education in each of the states. This report represents a summary of what has been learned from these resources.

*NEW* My Tribal Data

The Census Bureau collects data for the American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) population and publishes specific counts, estimates, and statistics. My Tribal Area gives you quick and easy access to selected statistics from the American Community Survey (ACS). The ACS provides detailed demographic, social, economic, and housing statistics every year for the nation's communities. My Tribal Area is powered by the Census Application Programming Interface (API).

*NEW* Native American Indian Programs By State (2018)

2011 ED Programs American Indians and Alaska Natives

This Department of Education website provides a list of federal funding programs for American Indians and Alaskan Natives.

American Indian Science and Engineering Society

As noted at its website, "The American Indian Science and Engineering Society's (AISES) mission is to increase substantially the representation of American Indian and Alaskan Natives in engineering, science and other related technology disciplines."

American Indian and Alaska Native Data

This U.S. Census Bureau website provides data on American Indian and Alaska Native communities.

Indian Education Research

This Department of Education website showcases Indian Educational standards for Alaskan Native students, effective teaching methods (promoting reading and language) studied in Arizona and California, Creating Culturally Dynamic Materials for Rural Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Exceptional (CLDE) Students for Mexican-American and Native American students in rural Arizona, and Common Curriculum Framework for Aboriginal Language and Culture Programs.

National Congress of American Indians (NCAI)

As noted at its website, "the NCAI was founded in 1944 in response to termination and assimilation policies that the United States forced upon the tribal governments in contradiction of their treaty rights and status as sovereigns. NCAI stressed the need for unity and cooperation among tribal governments for the protection of their treaty and sovereign rights. Since 1944, the National Congress of American Indians has been working to inform the public and Congress on the governmental rights of American Indians and Alaska Natives."

National Indian Education Association (NIEA)

As noted at its website, "The National Indian Education Association is a membership based organization committed to increasing educational opportunities and resources for American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian students while protecting our cultural and linguistic traditions."

National Indian Education Study (2015)

This link is to the National Center for Education Statistics' National Indian Education Study (NIES) studies describing the condition of education for American Indian and Alaska Native students in the United States.     Download 2015 PDF   Download 2019 PDF: 'A Closer Look'

National Indian Education Study Overview

The National Indian Education Study (NIES) is designed to describe the condition of education for American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) students in the United States. The study provides educators, policymakers, and the public with information about the academic performance in reading and mathematics of AI/AN fourth- and eighth-graders as well as their exposure to Native American culture.  A Technical Review Panel, whose members included American Indian and Alaska Native educators and researchers from across the country, helped design the study.  Conducted in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, and 2015, NIES provides data on a nationally representative sample of American Indian and Alaska Native students in public, private, Department of Defense, and Bureau of Indian Education funded schools. It is a reliable source of data on American Indian and Alaska Native students, especially for educators, administrators, and policymakers who address the educational needs of students.  Download a copy of the National Indian Education Study 2015.  The National Indian Education (NIES) survey explores the educational experiences of the American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) students participating in the NAEP assessments. Throughout the survey, questions were included to examine the extent to which AI/AN students were exposed to Native language and culture in their everyday lives and at school.

Tribal Government Sites

The resource provides links to Indian tribal government websites. Through these websites educators can gain an understanding of tribal heritage and the services and programs offered by each tribe.

*NEW video* Building Resilient Communities: A Moral Responsibility

In this June 2015 Tedx video, Nick Tilsen provides an educational and informative presentation on building resilient communities in Indian country. Nick is a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation and the founding Executive Director of the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation, a community development organization that works with the local grassroots people and national organizations in the development of sustainable regenerative communities, that creates jobs, builds homes and creates a National model for alleviating poverty. Nick Tilsen has over 15 years of experience in working with non-profits and Tribal Nations on projects that have a social mission. Nick is also the founder the Lakota Action Network which fought to protect Native American sacred sites, provide community organizing training while educating tribes in the implementation of sustainable renewable energy practices. Nick was selected by the White House to lead the Ladders of Opportunity and Promise Zone Initiatives on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. In 2014, Nick was selected as an Ashoka Fellow joining a global network of the worlds leading social innovators.

*NEW* 2018 Digest of Education Statistics (PG 51-240)

Released in February of 2018, the Digest's purpose is to provide a compilation of statistical information covering the broad field of education from prekindergarten through graduate school. The Digest contains data on a variety of topics, including the number of schools and colleges, teachers, enrollments, and graduates, in addition to educational attainment, finances, and federal funds for education, libraries, and international comparisons.   Refer to pages 51 through 240 for data on Native American Students, with multiple race/ethnicity by age table comparisons of Native American students and their peers from 1980 - 2016 on pages 67 - 240.

National Indian Education Study (2005 - 2019)

The National Indian Education Study (NIES) is designed to describe the condition of education for American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) students in the United States. This NIES study samples AI/AN students in public, private, Department of Defense, and Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) funded schools. Conducted in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2015, and 2019, the study provides educators, policymakers, and the public with information about the academic performance in reading and mathematics of AI/AN fourth-graders, and eighth-graders. This NAEP site also presents s a brief video called, 'An Introduction to the National Indian Education Study.'

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.

*NEW* PNPI Factsheets: Native American Students (2017)

This September 2017 PNPI (Postsecondary National Policy Institute) website, a non-profit funded by Bill and Melissa Gates, presents this Factsheet about Native American Students. This factsheet explores that because Native Americans (both American Indians and Alaska Natives) comprise only 1% of the U.S. undergraduate population and less than 1% of the graduate population, these students are often left out of postsecondary research and data reporting due to small sample size. What data is available indicates that only 10% of Native Americans attain bachelor’s degrees and only 17% attain associate’s degrees, making the case for a system that is more responsive to the specific needs of these students.

*NEW* Reversing the Academic Trend for Rural Students: The Case of Michelle Opbroek

This 2005 44th Volume, Issue 3 of the Journal of American Indian Education features a case study that explores the interactions between a teacher, her students, and a culturally based math curriculum in a fifth and sixth grade classroom in rural Alaska. The case attempts to identify and illuminate factors that created a rich learning environment while implementing Star Navigation: Explorations into Angles and Measurement, a module from the series, 'Math in a Cultural Context' (MCC). This case describes how the teacher facilitated the embedded Yup’ik cultural knowledge into lively, mathematical communication and learning made relevant to a non-Yup’ik group of students. Students’ pre- and post-test results showed strong gain scores as well as high absolute post-test scores, placing this class in the small category where a rural treatment group outperformed all urban treatment and control groups. Thus, this compelling case provides an example of a classroom and curricular learning environment that reverses national trends for rural students in general and shows potential for Alaska Native students in particular.

American Indian Support Services (AISS)

American Indian Student Services provides academic support & cultural programming for American Indian students attending the Arizona University and the University of New Mexico.

Indian Education in New Mexico, 2025

In 2007, the New Mexico Indian Education Study, 2025, embarked on a statewide research.  This study indicates that Best Practices in Indian Education entail providing a culturally responsive education for Native students. Culturally responsive education requires systemic reform and transformation in educational ideologies.  Such a task is not easily accomplished in a rigid public school structure that is bound by state and federal laws.

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.