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.

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

Task 1: Working with Tribal, Community, and National Organizations

Guideline: Many tribes have Tribal Education Departments to provide educational services and support for tribal citizens to better prepare them for college and career opportunities.  School districts are required to have Parent Advisory Committees if they receive Title VI funding under ESSA which should be comprised of parents, grandparents and school personnel to develop programs and services to improve the educational journey of American Indian students.  National Indian organizations also provide support for educators of American Indian students through conferences, conventions, trade shows, and publications related to Indian education. These organizations promote stakeholder engagement which includes tribes, tribal leaders, parents, local educators, and state level education policy makers committed to Indian education for all students.

Handbook on Family and Community Engagement

Thirty-six of the best thinkers on family and community engagement were assembled to produce this Handbook. The authors tell what they know in plain language, succinctly presented in short chapters with practical suggestions for states, districts, and schools. The vignettes in the Handbook provide vivid pictures of the real life of parents, teachers, and kids.

Strategies for Community Engagement in School Turnaround

The Reform Support Network (RSN) conducted studies between April and August of 2013 of 11 States and districts, urban and rural, engaged in the communities surrounding low-performing schools.

ESSA Dear Colleague Letter on Tribal Consultation (2016)

This September 2016 Dear Colleague Letter from the Department of Education to American Indian Tribal Educators to offer guidance on a new provision of the law, under Section 8538 of the ESEA as amended by ESSA, that is of particular importance to our Nation's Tribal communities.  Affected Local Educational Agencies (LEAs), must consult with Indian Tribes and Tribal organizations on issues affecting Native students.  Consultation will create opportunities for LEAs and Tribal leaders to work together on behalf of American Indian and Alaskan Native students.  The consultation process will allow affected LEAs to gather input from Indian Tribes and Tribal organizations, fostering the collaboration that is a critical part of improving academic outcomes for Native students.

Gen-I: Generation Indigenous Native Youth Challenge

In 2015, the White House introduced the new "Generation Indigenous Native Youth Challenge" (Gen-I). The Generation Indigenous Native Youth Challenge invites Native youth and organizations across the country to become a part of the Administration’s Generation Indigenous (Gen-I) initiative by joining the National Native Youth Network (see map)— a White House effort in partnership with the Aspen Institute’s Center for Native American Youth and the U.S. Department of the Interior.  Through new investments and increased engagement, this initiative takes a comprehensive, culturally appropriate approach to ensure all young Native people can reach their full potential.  In addition to the National Native Youth Network, the Gen-I Initiative includes a demonstration program called the Native Youth Community Projects, administered by the Department of Education,  a restructuring of the Bureau of Indian Education, a Cabinet Native Youth Listening Tour, and the organization of the first ever White House Tribal Youth Gathering.  Click to see Gen-I youth stories.  Gen-I FACT SHEET

*NEW* Education of Native Americans (2018)

This April 2018 edition of 'Native Youth Magazine', explores the myriad of issues surrounding Native American Education.  Recent statistics from the Bureau of Indian Affairs have noted that between 29% and 36% of all Native American students drop out of high school. They mostly drop out between the 7th and 12th grades. These numbers are even higher in areas where parents of Native American children complain of a major lack in understanding of native culture.  In order to turn the tide on these statistics, a number of educational programs have been bolstered to provide even greater opportunities for Native American students. The federal government has created specialty internship and school scholarship programs that it hopes will help Native American youth succeed. Also, many schools have begun to take native culture more seriously

Community Schools Initiative

As defined by the Coalition for Community Schools a community school is both a set of partnerships and a place where services, supports and opportunities lead to improved student learning, stronger families and healthier communities. One such initiative widely recognized for its effectiveness is Bridges to Success jointly sponsored by the Indianapolis Public Schools and the United Way of Central Indiana. The document describes the Bridges to Success initiative, offers several lessons learned and outcomes achieved.

*NEW video* National Dropout Rural Videos (2016)

In 2016, work was completed on a Rural Dropout Prevention Project, funded by the U.S. Department of Education (US ED) through its High School Graduation Initiative (HSGI). The purpose of the Rural Dropout Prevention Project (Contract No. ED-ESE-13-C-0069) was to provide technical assistance to state education agencies and middle and high schools in designing and implementing programs and securing resources to implement effective school dropout prevention and reentry programs in rural communities. The US ED awarded the rural dropout prevention project to Manhattan Strategy Group, which executed the project with assistance from the American Institutes for Research, the National Dropout Prevention Center, and Clemson Broadcast Productions. Project deliverables included producing videos focusing on dropout prevention from each state’s perspective. The videos focus on dropout prevention strategies used or challenges faced, specific to each state or selected state districts. The project provided technical assistance to fourteen states: Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

*NEW* Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation

Founded by Nick Tilsen, a Citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation, "Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation is a Lakota-led grassroots non-profit organization working to create systemic change on the Pine Ridge Reservation. We collaborate with—and empower—Lakota youth and families to improve the health, culture and environment of our community in a way that heals and strengthens our identity."  Thunder Valley CDC currently provides development of a sustainable regenerative community, that creates jobs, builds homes and creates a National model for alleviating poverty in America's poorest communities.

American Indian Institute

Within the College of Continuing Education at the University of Oklahoma, "the American Indian Insititue (AII) provides expert technical assistance to American Indian, Alaska Native, and Canadian First Nation tribes and bands."

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."

Center for Indian Education

As noted at its website, "the Center for Indian Education is an interdisciplinary research and service organization housed in the College of Education at Arizona State University. The Center promotes studies in American Indian/Alaska Native policy and administration that contribute to the quality of scholarship and effective practices in education, professional training and tribal capacity building."

Corporation for National and Community Service - Indian Communities

This link to the Corporation for National and Community Service provides information about its Native American community initiative.

Indian Education Priority - West Comprehensive Center

The West Comprehensive Center, (WCC), serving the states of Arizona, Nevada and Utah, is one of five centers that have been awarded additional funds to assist state departments of education in addressing needs of American Indian students. Working with its Indian Education Advisory Board members, the WCC identified regional needs and goals which include preserving native language, history and culture; increasing access to effective teachers and leaders; and improving outcomes in low-performing schools with significant numbers of Indian students.

Indigenous Bilingual Education (IBE) Special Interest Group

As noted at its website, "the Indigenous Special Interest Group (SIG) of the National Association for Bilingual Education supports the teaching of tribal languages and the improvement of the education of American Indian students."

Johnson O’Malley Program

This Bureau of Indian Education website features information about the Johnson O'Malley (JOM) program, which is authorized by the Johnson-O'Malley Act of 1934, and the implementing regulations are provided in Part 273 of Title 25 of the Code of Federal Regulations. As amended, this Act authorizes contracts for the education of eligible Indian students enrolled in public schools and previously private schools. This local program is operated under an educational plan, approved by the BIE, which contains educational objectives to address the needs of the eligible American Indian and Alaska Native students by providing supplementary financial assistance for the specialized educational needs of Indian children. (Minnesota) (California Fact Sheet)


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."

Office of Indian Education

This link is to the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Indian Education website.

Partnerships Between Tribal Education Deparments and Local Education Agencies (LEAs)

This 2012 study examines nine voluntary working relationships or partnerships between tribal education departments and local education agencies supporting American Indian students. Individual profiles describe how each partnership works, focusing primarily on collaborative activities intended to improve education outcomes for American Indian students.

The Center for Native American Youth (Aspen Institute)

The Center for Native American Youth believes all Native American youth should lead full and healthy lives, have equal access to opportunity, and draw strength from their culture and one another. As a policy program of the Aspen Institute founded by former US Senator Byron Dorgan (ret.), we work to improve the health, safety, and overall well-being of Native American youth. We do this through youth recognition, inspiration and leadership; research, advocacy, and policy change; serving as a national resource exchange; and by building a Native-youth driven narrative.

Tribal College: Journal of American Indian Higher Education

This website is the Summer 2018 edition of the Tribal College Journal of American Indian Higher Education.   There is a map of tribal colleges.  Dine College celebrates 50 years!

Tribal Education Departments National Assembly

As noted at its webiste, "Tribal Education Departments National Assembly (TEDNA) is a membership organization for the Education Departments of American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes."

*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* Native American Scholarships

This April 2018 edition of 'Native American Youth Magazine', offers a summary of college scholarships, school scholarships and educational programs for Native American students.

*NEW* Native Children Are Facing A ‘National Emergency.’ Now Congress Is Pushing To Address It (2015)

This June 27th, 2015 Huffington Post article, a summation of issues involving American Indian Education is explored. After a visit from former President Obama in November 2014, the Department of Justice released a report detailing Native children’s unhealthy exposure to violence. The DOJ report was soon followed by the White House’s 2014 Native Youth Report on the state of education in Indian Country.  Together, these reports told an alarming story of overwhelming poverty, epidemic suicide, combat-level rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and low educational attainment among Native youth. Here are some of the more striking statistics:  More than one in three Native children live in poverty.  The high school graduation rate for Native students is 67 percent — the lowest of any ethnic group in the country. At Bureau of Indian Education schools, the graduation rate is 53 percent, compared to the U.S. average of 80 percent.  Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Native youth aged 15 to 24, and occurs at 2.5 times the national rate.  Twenty-two percent of Native youth suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder — exceeding or matching PTSD rates among Afghanistan, Iraq and Gulf War veterans, and almost three times the 8 percent rate of PTSD in the general population.

Partnering with Diverse Community Members

This webinar explores the ways several schools have successfully cultivated and sustained partnerships with diverse families and community members. Our schools and districts throughout the country are experiencing dramatic shifts in demographics, and this diversity brings rich resources, but this can also be a source of misunderstanding and conflict among school staff, families, and other community stakeholders.  The webinar focuses directly on the topic of diversity and offered tools and guidance to develop rich partnerships with diverse families and community members. The session featured school and district strategies to address and embrace diversity in ways that enable partnerships among home, school, and community.

Cherokee Tony Dearman Testimony on Sequoya High School (2017)

This report recounts the testimony given by Cherokee Tony Dearman, who was also the Director of the Bureau of Indian Education. Dearman states, "Today, Sequoyah High School is a first preference among Native students.  In fact, more than 60 students who attended Sequoyah High School have gone on to receive Gates Millennium Scholarships over the past 15 years." 

UNITY: United National Indian Tribal Youth

UNITY's Mission (United National Indian Tribal Youth) is to foster the spiritual, mental, physical, and social development of American Indian and Alaska Native youth and to help build a strong, unified, and self- reliant Native America through greater youth involvement.  Another of UNITY's goals is to promote "unity" within individual families and tribes, and also among American Indian tribes and other peoples. There is a vast diversity of cultures, languages and histories among the more than 550 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Native villages and the many urban Indian organizations that are located across the country.


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.