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: Develop a Curriculum for American Indian Students

Guideline: Curriculum developed for use in non-Indian schools is seldom appropriate for use with American Indian students without adaptation. In fact, it is important the curriculum being used in any school be adapted to meet the needs of the students in that community. Such curriculum should integrate American Indian history and culture into the school curriculum through place, culture, and community based education.

7 Things Teachers Need to Know About Native American Heritage Month

In these November 2014 Indian Country Today, and 2017 Students at the Center.Hub articles by Christina Rose, teachers are offered 7 things to know about American Indian History Month. Without guidance, too many teachers will celebrate Native American Heritage Month in the only ways they know how: paper bag vests and feathers, classroom pow wows, and discussions on who Indians were.  Even for teachers with the best intentions, great material may be hard to recognize without understanding the basics: worldview, sovereignty, circular thinking, true history. Teachers who teach local history with facts that include real outcomes will find their students more engaged than when they teach solely from history books.  Teachers can’t know what they don’t know, and if they have never spent time immersed in any Native culture they won’t know the effects of colonization or of ongoing issues in U.S. and Native politics. If teachers do not know the very basic and important facts, they cannot teach Native studies from an unbiased point of view.

Curriculum Development for Native American Students

Curriculum developed for use in non-Indian schools is seldom appropriate for use with Indian or Eskimo students, without adaptation. In fact, it is important that the curriculum being used in any school be adapted to meet the needs of the students in that community. The extent to which you relate the content in any subject area to the local language and culture tells the students a great deal about the value which you place on their way of life.  These instructions were developed for the Indian Bilingual Teacher Training Program Eastern Montana College, Billings, Montana in December of 1987 by Hap Gilliland.

*NEW* History of Native Americans: Lesson Plans and Booklist

This Scholastic website offers lesson plans and book lists for Native American History such as: life as a Native American, Creating Maps of Native American Regions, Life as a Northwest Coast Native American, and Indian Chiefs.

*NEW* Native American Pow Wow Lesson Plan

The Gathering of Nations, North American's largest Pow Wow, is held every April in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Gathering of Nations takes place on the 4th weekend each year on Friday and Saturday. This website offers is a unique opportunity to watch a Pow Wow live during school. Watching a Pow Wow allows you to experience an authentic piece of Native American culture. This Pow Wow website also offers: Lesson Plans, Teacher's Guide, Native American Worksheet, Pow Wow Worksheet, Questions/Quiz, and Streaming of Past Pow Wows.

*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.

Activities to Celebrate Native American Heritage

This Education World article offers 12 lessons to help students learn about Native American Indian and Alaska Native history and cultures in celebration of Native American Indian and Alaska Native History Month.

American Indian Civics Project: An Introductory and Curricular Guide for Educators

As noted a this website, "the contents were made possible by the American Indian Civics Project (AICP), a project initially funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's Native American Higher Education Initiative. The primary goal of the AICP was to provide educators with the tools to educate secondary students - Indian and non-native alike - about the historical and contemporary political, economic, and social characteristics of sovereign tribal nations throughout the United States."

Creating Culturally Dynamic Materials for Rural Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Exceptional Students

This 2004 Sage Journal article focuses on a variety of culturally dynamic methods and materials that have been developed for teachers of Mexican-American and Native American CLDE students in rural areas of Arizona. The instructional materials that are described can be easily adapted for use with other rural CLDE populations by changing the native language and native culture frame of reference to match those of the rural students in the local community.

First Nations Holistic Lifelong Learning - CCL and Indigenous Learning

In 2007, The Council of Canadian Learning (CCL) identified data gaps and challenges that limit non-Aboriginal understanding of Aboriginal learning; presented three Holistic Lifelong Learning Models for First Nations, Inuit and Métis; and proposes how each model can be used to develop a national, holistic framework for measuring lifelong learning.  Learn how each element in the model relates to First Nations learning, explore what indicators and data can measure success in lifelong learning, and help identify alternative indicators needed to measure success."

Indian Education Lesson Plans from Oklahoma Department of Education

This Oklahoma Department of Education website offers free, ready-to-use lesson plans for all teachers of Indian Education.  These lessons plans range from: the Indian perspective on Thanksgiving, American Indian culture, Indian Visual Arts, American Indian food, Tribal flags, Tribal dances, Code-talkers of World War I and World War II, and numerous American Indian native languages such as Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Sac & Fox, Muscogee, and Comanche.

Land Tenure Curriculum

This link to the Indian Land Tenure Foundation website provides information on its land tenure curriculum for all educational levels.

Native Words, Native Warriors: Lesson Plan

This website explores the lives and experiences of American Indian Code Talkers, the servicemen who used their traditional tribal languages to transmit secret messages for the United States military during World War I and World War II. The content focuses on the Code Talkers’ wartime experiences, as well as their pre- and post-war lives. Their highly honored military achievements are placed in a larger cultural and historical context to encourage deeper appreciation of and respect for the complex and difficult challenges they faced as American Indian people of the twentieth century.

Red Power Movement: Lesson Plans

This Sutori website offers quizzes and lesson plans for the upsurge of Native American Militancy and Activism during the 1960's and 1970's. Despite FDR's domestic policy to help Native Americans and end President Eisenhower's policy of "termination," Indian Activism continued to increase through means of "self-determination".

*NEW* Native American Heritage Month Resources for Teachers

This November 2014 Indian Country Today article provides educators with a list resources, including perspectives, lesson plans and curriculum  for teaching about Native American history and heritage in the United States. Via this article, the author encourages teachers to help expand their horizons to go beyond the stereotypes, and really teach their students the true history of the Native people of this country.

Alaska Standards for Culturally Responsive Schools

The following standards have been developed by Alaska Native educators to provide a way for schools and communities to examine to the extent of to which they are attending to the educational and cultural well being of the students in their care. These "cultural standards" are predicated on the belief that a firm grounding in the heritage language and culture indigenous to a particular place is a fundamental prerequisite for the development of culturally-healthy students and communities associated with that place, and thus is an essential agreement for identifying the appropriate qualities and practices associated with culturally-responsive educators, curriculum, and schools.

*IN PROGRESS* American Indian Education Programs by State

ESSA requires each state with Native American students to have a program in place. The standards describe the proficiency level descriptors and student expectations for Native American students. School districts are required to implement ELPS Native American programs as an integral part of each subject in the required curriculum.

*NEW* Indian Education K-12 Curriculum (2013 - 2016)

This link is to the Minnesota Department of Education's K-12 curriculum framework for Indian education. Though intended for Minnesota schools, the framework may be useful to educators in other states.

American Indian Values Curriculum (2016) ; American Indian Sovereignty Curriculum (2013) ; American Indian Oral Traditions Curriculum (2013)

American Indian Music and Dance Curriculum (2013) ; American Indian Leadership Curriculum (2013) ; American Indian Art Curriculum (2013)

American Indian Contributions Curriculum (2013) ; American Indian Family Life Curriculum (2013) ; American Indian Harmony and Balance Curriculum (2013)

*NEW* K-12 Teaching and Learning - UNC

LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

*NEW* Lakota Vocabulary

In this Lakota Vocabulary website David Little Elk, certified Lakota Language & Culture Teacher, author of the Lakota Language book & CD method Cante Etanhan Owoglake (Speaking From The Heart) and the Lakota Culture book Wicoh'an Otehike (The Difficult Path); has just announced the inauguration of his Wakinyan Kiza Lakota Online Academy, where he offers direct one-to-one instruction.

*NEW* What Are Some Great Books About Native American History?

In this May 2016 article, author Robert Collins provides some titles of books about Native American history while also explaining that it is extremely difficult to recommend a single book that does a good job of representing all Native American history and culture. 

  • Handbook of the North American Indians (Volumes 1 - 19) VOL 1-2 PDF VOL 5 PDF
  • The Columbia Guide to the American Indians Southeast  by Theda Perdue from Columbia University 
  • Tiller's Guide to Indian Country (3rd Edition) by Veronica E. Velarde Tiller, a Jicarilla Apache 
  • Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America by author, Daniel K. Richter
  • The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815, by Richard White 
  • Indian Work: Language and Livelihood in Native American History, by Daniel H. Usner Jr. 
  • Sacred Revolt: The Muskogees' Struggle for a New World, by Joel Martin   
  • Spirited Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 1745-1815, by Gregory Evans Dowd 
  • The First Way of War: American War Making on the Frontier, 1607-1814, by John Grenier  
  • Creek Indian Medicine Ways: The Enduring Power of Mvskoke Religion, by David Lewis Jr. 

*NEW* Wisconsin's First Nations

This Wisconsin's First Nations website explores a rich collection of educational videos, teacher professional development resources, lesson plans for all grades, and learning tools for your classroom or library.

Chemawa Indian School - U.S.

This link is to the website of the Chemawa Indian School of Salem, Oregon. This boarding school dates back to the 1870s when the U.S. government authorized a boarding school for Indian children in the northwest. Chemawa is the oldest of four off-reservation continuing boarding schools operating in the United States. The schools share a complicated history, dating back to the late 19th century, when their goal was to assimilate Native children into American society, sometimes by force. Through the last century, federal and tribal leaders refocused schools like Chemawa to support teenagers’ Native culture and prepare them for college and careers.  

Cradleboard Teaching Project

As noted at its website, "the Cradleboard Teaching Project turns on the lights in public education about Native American culture - past, present, and most important for the children - the Future. Backed by lesson plans and an excellent curriculum, the Cradleboard Teaching Project is also live and interactive, and totally unique; children learn with and through their long-distance peers using the new technology alongside standard tools, and delivering the truth to little kids with the help of several American Indian colleges. Cradleboard reaches both Indian and non-Indian children with positive realities, while they are young."

Indian Education Information for Teachers

This link is to the Montana Office of Public Instruction's website providing Indian education resources for teachers. The goal of the Indian Education Division is to assist in the successful implementation of the Indian Education for All Act (MCA 20-1-501) and to work to close the achievement gap for American Indian students in Montana.

NIEA Culture Resource Repository (K-12) Curriculum

Culture-Based Education Repository (CBER) is a project of the National Indian Education Association (NIEA) designed to house culture-based education (CBE) curriculum aligned with Common Core State Standard (CCSS). The repository will serve as a clearinghouse for quality curriculum respectful of cultural and traditional knowledge and utilizing innovative instructional strategies to ensure Native students succeed. The purpose of the CBER is not to endorse a particular curriculum, product, or template, but to instead provide educators of Native students with the best resources for increasing the educational attainment of Native students.

The NIEA Resource Repository is a dynamic digital library and network. Explore open education resources and join our network of educators and advocates dedicated to strengthening Native education systems.

*NEW Video* Restructuring Schools to Nurture Native American Students

The high school graduation rate for Native Americans is the lowest of any ethnic or racial group in the United States. How can the government assist reservation schools while respecting autonomy of tribes? In this 2014 PBS 'News Hour" television program, Judy Woodruff talks to Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, about a series of initiatives announced by President Obama on how to undo deep-seated education challenges for Native American Indians.

*New Video* How A Struggling School for Native Americans Doubled Its Graduation Rate (2017)

This 2017 video shares schools that serve Native American students have a history of failure. Fewer than a third of students scored above average on math and reading tests compared to peers nationwide, according to a study commissioned by the Bureau of Indian Education. In 2006, the Native American Community Academy (NACA) launched as a charter school in Albuquerque with the aim of increasing college enrollment in tribal communities, partly by incorporating Native culture into the curriculum. In 2016, over 90 percent of the graduating class was accepted into college. Now NACA founders are teaching others how to start charters with native leaders and curricula that reflect tribal cultures. The NACA-Inspired Schools Network (NISN) has opened six charters in New Mexico, including Kha'p'o Community School on the Santa Clara Reservation, a native community with failing schools and high crime rates.

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.

Indian School Whisperer, Dave Archambault, Sr. (VIDEO)

In this 2013 video, Dave Archambault, Sr., states that existing and past schooling policies of the U.S. government are effectively genocide; wasting the customs and beliefs of First Americans.  Born on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, Dave Leon Archambault received the Lakota name, 'Itazipo Wakinyan' meaning Thunder Bow. He holds a Masters Degree in Education Administration from Penn State University. Mr. Archambault has worked as an educator, an administrator, and a consultant at Indian schools and tribal colleges throughout his career.

*NEW* American Indian Curriculum and Lesson Plans -- Minnesota

This Minnesota Office of Indian Education website provides K-12 curriculum resources, information, support and oversight to public school staff, parents and students in the area of Indian Education. 

*NEW* American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving

Each November, educators across the county teach their students about the First Thanksgiving, a quintessentially American holiday.  Educators try to give an accurate picture of Plymouth in 1621, and explain how this even fits into American history. Unfortunately, many teaching materials give incomplete or inaccurate portrayal of the First Thanksgiving, particularly the event's Native American participants.  This poster serves as a "jumping-off" point to start in-depth educational discussion and exploration.  Discussion, and other classroom ideas, are included in each section.  It is also recommended students are introduced to the 'real Thanksgiving story', found in "Harvest Ceremony: The Myth of Thanksgiving". 

*NEW* First Nations Holistic Lifelong Learning Model

The First Nations Holistic Lifelong Learning Model, dated June 2007) represents the link between First Nations lifelong learning and community well-being, and can be used as a framework for measuring success in lifelong learning. The First Nations Holistic Lifelong Learning Model is a result of ongoing discussions among First Nations learning professionals, community practitioners, researchers and analysts.

*NEW* Priscilla Cleveland: Infusing American Indian Studies into Wisconsin Classrooms

This Wisconsin First Nations article chronicles how the city and people of Tomah, WI, and the Ho-Chunk Nation have benefited from Priscilla Cleveland’s dedication to students, education, and community.  As the Title VII Indian Education Coordinator-Teacher for the Tomah Area School District for 28 years, Priscilla Cleveland collaborated with schools to provide instruction on the history, culture, and tribal sovereignty of the First Nations of Wisconsin.

*NEW* Raising Her Voice: Albuquerque Author Fulfills Her Mission to put Native Americans Back in History Books

Historian and researcher Veronica E. Velarde Tiller, a Jicarilla Apache, has taken a long time to tell her story.She’s told and published the stories of her tribe and the 567 federally recognized tribes across the country, in her encyclopedic “Tiller’s Guide to Indian Country,” a third edition just released this month.  “It always seemed to me that Indian history stopped in the 1890s after the era of the big chiefs – like Chief Seattle, Sitting Bull, Geronimo – but there was no contemporary history,” she says, explaining her mission of creating “Tiller’s Guide to Indian Country.”  The book, first published in 1996 and updated about every 10 years, provides a profile of each tribe, so that agencies and corporations, including the federal government, will know a little before they negotiate. It has been used by many, including the U.S. Supreme Court and cited in the court’s findings.  “We’re not invisible anymore,” she says. “The Indian economic renaissance is a powerful success story of the resilience of the human spirit and the promise of America itself.

*NEW* What Are the Best Non-fiction Books About History and Culture of Native Americans?

In this Quora blog, “Everything You Know About Indians is Wrong” by Paul Chaat Smith and “Being Comanche” by Morris W. Foster are offered as non-fiction reading about the history and culture of Native Americans. "Being Comanche" is more academic but it is accurate and respectful and doesn’t treat Native people are historical artefacts.

National Navajo Code Talkers Day Lesson Plan

Navajo Code Talkers are often regarded as a “Secret Weapon” that helped the Allied Forces win World War II.  But today, the traditional Navajo language is in danger of dying out. Recently, Disney and the Navajo Nation Museum teamed up to help keep it alive with a Navajo-language edition of “Finding Nemo.” Channel One News offers a behind-the-scenes look at creating the film and then presents a look at why Indian languages are dying out and the efforts underway to preserve them. This website also features a one-day lesson plan for National Navajo Code Talkers Day.


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.