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 2: Integrate Social Studies

Guideline: Standard Social Studies textbooks tend to treat American Indians as people who used to live in America, if they address them at all. All students, but especially American Indian students, need to learn about tribal histories and current tribal governments as part of the Social Studies curriculum.

Wampanoag Tribe: People, History & Role in First Thanksgiving Chapter 2 / Lesson 25

This website offers a complete lesson plan on the Wampanoag Tribe: People, History & Role in First Thanksgiving. (Chapter 2 / Lesson 25)

*NEW* Creating Codes Like the Navajo Code Talkers: Lesson Plan

Teach the story of the Navajo Code Talkers and their critical role in World War II before challenging students, Grades 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, to write their own secret messages via this website that includes Lesson Plans, Lesson Materials, and a Navajo Code Dictionary.

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."

Are You Teaching the Real Story of the "First Thanksgiving"?

This link is to an Education World article on teaching about Thanksgiving. As noted in the article's introduction, "the relationship of the Indians and Pilgrims on Thanksgiving Day can easily be trivialized by teachers. This resource helps teachers give a more accurate picture of what happened."

Culturally Responsive Curriculum for Secondary Schools

Produced by the Northwest Indian Applied Research Institute at Evergreen State College "this curriculum project provides current, as well as historically correct, information that can be easily adapted or integrated into the Social Studies units of all public schools."

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.

Lesson Plan: The Journal of Jesse Smoke Discussion Guide

This Scholastic website offers lesson plans for 6th through 8th grade students. These discussion prompts and student activities will help readers explore the characters and themes in Joseph Bruchac's historical fiction novel about the Trail of Tears.

Lesson Plan: The Sand Creek Massacre

This website offers a lesson plan about the Sand Creek Massacre.

Lessons and Ideas to Teach Native Americans' Unique History and Culture

This 2013 Bright Hub Education website offers Native American teacher lessons plans and printable worksheets from Pre-K to Grade 12 including: American Indian folktales, culture, food, history, vocabulary and language.

Plains Indians Lesson Plans

This website offers Plains Indians lesson plans, myths and legends as well as PowerPoint presentations for children.

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".

Should We Celebrate Columbus Day?

This link is to an Education World esson plan for grades 6-12. As noted in the lesson plan's introduction, "students use inquiry-based learning to gather information about Columbus's impact on the Americas. They use this information to answer the question of whether a fictitious community should continue to recognize Columbus Day."

Smithsonian Education

This resource provides a database of education resources available through the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies. Native American related content can be found lesson plans, resources and Smithsonian educational resources aligned to state standards. This database may be useful for teachers searching for culturally responsive resources.

Southwest Crossroads: Footpaths

As noted at its website,"Southwest Crossroads features Footpaths-lesson plans for students in grades 7-12, created by and for educators. Each Footpath presents selected materials and carefully designed questions that guide students through lessons tied to curricular standards. Footpaths encourage students to remain focused while exploring a diversity of documents, images, and multimedia features. Footpaths include practical information to help teachers plan and select appropriate lessons."

Teaching with Historic Places Lesson Plans: The Trail of Tears

This is the story of the removal of the Cherokee Nation from its ancestral homeland in parts of North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama to land set aside for American Indians in what is now the state of Oklahoma. Some 100,000 American Indians forcibly removed from what is now the eastern United States to what was called Indian Territory included members of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole tribes. The Cherokee's journey by water and land was over a thousand miles long, during which many Cherokees were to die. Tragically, the story in this lesson is also one of conflict within the Cherokee Nation as it struggled to hold on to its land and its culture in the face of overwhelming force.

*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.

Know Your Rights - for Indigenous Adolescents

In this publication you will learn about an important international document called the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).  The Declaration explains how the rights of indigenous peoples – including indigenous young people – are to be protected by governments around the world. UNDRIP applies to indigenous peoples as individuals and as a group. Indigenous young people were actively involved in the development of UNDRIP, and they are working hard to make sure governments implement it. This source provides a summary of some of the important language, themes and articles of the document, so that young people can continue to play an important role in ensuring the Declaration is fully implemented around the world.

'Custer Died for Your Sins' - By Vine Deloria Jr.

This website features a PDF of “Custer Died for Your Sins,” By Vine Deloria, Jr.

*NEW* Native American Student and Teacher Resources

This website offers information on Native American tribes, colleges, and scholarships.  Pow Wow descripton, etiquette, singing, dancing, language and lesson aides are also featured.

*NEW* The Miseducation of Native American Students

This November 2016 Education Weekly article sheds lights on the thought that Autumn, the beginning of the school year, is the cruelest season for Native American students in the United States. Between sports games where entire crowds chant about "redskins" and other school mascots and the federal holiday of the Indian-killing mercenary Christopher Columbus, there is the misguided national celebration of "Thanksgiving" to mark the arrival of the religious Europeans, who set the stage for Native American genocide.   As November's recognition of Native American Heritage Month ends, educators should resist the urge to regurgitate the usual narrative and instead discuss the reality of life, historical and current, for the more than 600,000 Native American students in our nation's K-12 public schools.  The author wants educators to be aware of how these Native American stereotypes affect all children in schools today. Internalizing harmful images most acutely damages Native children, but absorbing racist and dehumanizing ideas about fellow classmates also diminishes the understanding and compassion of non-Native children, warping their conception of a history that often erases Native Americans altogether.  While distortions and myths of Native American culture plague many schools, textbooks often fail to mention Native history after the 19th century. In a 2015 study, scholars Antonio Castro, Ryan Knowles, Sarah Shear, and Gregory Soden examined the state standards for teaching Native American history and culture in all 50 states and found that 87 percent of references to American Indians are in a pre-1900s context. (Washington is the only state in the union that uses the word "genocide" in its 5th grade U.S. history standards and teaching of Native peoples' history.) In short, existing Native nations and land bases aren't identified, and Native people are dealt with as historical figures, implying their extinction.

National Museum of the American Indian

This link to The Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian provides educational resources on American Indians.

*NEW Video* Navajo Code Talker Explains Role in WWII

This November 2015 video features Roy Hawthorne, age 89, who served as a Navajo code talker with the U.S. Marine Corps from 1943 to 1945. Mr. Hawthorne effortlessly recalls how they came up with codes to trick the Japanese.

*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* An Incomplete History: Representation of American Indians in State Social Studies Standards

In this 2009, Volume 47, Issue 2 Journal of American Indian Education article, author Wayne Journell states the way that American Indians are represented in state standards may provide a better understanding of how they are then portrayed in the classroom. This article offers findings that all nine states largely depict American Indians as victimized rather than providing examples of societal contributions made by tribes. Moreover, nearly all of the states cease their coverage of American Indians after the forced relocation in the 1830s, creating an incomplete narrative. These findings have implications for the historical consciousness of all students and specifically for American Indian students in mainstream public education who may feel disengaged and alienated by the current curriculum.

*NEW* Effective Teaching Strategies for Engaging Native American Students

The 2007 publication, Effective Teaching Strategies for Engaging American Indian Students, was presented at the National Association of Native American Studies Conference.

Native American Films for Public Broadcasting and Education

This Vision Maker Media website offers both the resources to create a Native American film for public broadcasting, and a searchable gallery of Native American films such as: A Blackfeet Encounter, A Native American Night Before Christmas, A Tattoo On My Heart, Aboriginal Architecture, the Apache 8, and Aleut Story.  The search feature can drill down to the 'Initiative or Areas of Interest' along with a 'Tribe or Group selection'. Some films have educational guides and/or viewer discussion guides for educational lesson plans.

The Apache 8

This 2011 documentary features the all-women wild land firefighting crew from the White Mountain Apache Tribe, who has been fighting fires on the Reservation and throughout the United States for more than 30 years. With humor and tenderness, four extraordinary women from different generations of the Apache 8 crew share their personal stories.  The film also has an Educational Guide and a Viewer Discussion Guide for lesson plans.

True Whispers: The Story of Navajo Code Talkers (Video)

Debuted in 2002, TRUE WHISPERS tells the moving and personal story of the World War II Navajo Code Talkers. Recruited as teenagers from harsh government and mission schools where they were forbidden to use their native language, they served as U.S. Marines from 1942-1945 utilizing that very language to transmit vital coded messages that were key to the U.S. victory in the Pacific. The wartime contributions of these Native Americans went unrecognized for over fifty years and this documentary, uniquely positioned from their point of view including cultural, personal and intimate moments, provides part of the long overdue tribute they deserve. "True Whispers" is directed and written by Valerie Red-Horse Mohl and produced by Gale Anne Hurd and Valerie Red-Horse Mohl in association with ITVS, with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Urban Rez (VIDEO)

In 2013, Rocky Mountain PBS presented "Urban Rez," a nationally distributed documentary exploring the lasting legacy and modern-day effects of the Voluntary Relocation Program and policies that encouraged American Indians to leave their homelands and relocate to urban areas across the country from 1952 to 1973.  Additional videos include: the BIA, Spirituality, Language Loss, Education, Culture, Community vs Individual, and Boarding Schools.

*NEW* Introducing the Big Picture Learning Native American Initiative

"Indian education dates back to a a time when all children were identified as gifted and talented. Each child had a skill and ability that would contribute to the health and vitality of the community. Everyone in the community was expected and trained to be a teacher to identify and cultivate these skills and abilities. The elders were entrusted to oversee this sacred act of knowledge being shared. That is our vision for Indian education today." - CHiXapkaid (Dr. Michael Pavel)   The Big Picture Learning Native American Initiative strives to (1) Ensure that each BPL network school is prepared to meet the unique cultural and linguistic needs of their American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) students, as guaranteed by the treaties; (2) Decolonize and indigenize Big Picture Learning network schools so that all students may benefit from the wide breadth of cultural knowledge and worldviews of Indigenous peoples.

*NEW* Investing in the Future: Native American Youth and Education

This 2013 Department of Education HomeRoom blog describes the White House Tribal Nations Conference, where they were honored to co-host a session for tribal leaders from federally-recognized Indian tribes with colleagues from eight federal agencies. The purpose was to listen, learn and share pathways to federal resources with the distinguished representatives of a wide range of tribal governments. The context was improving education for the children of Indian Country.  Bill Mendoza, Oglala and Sicangu Lakota and Executive Director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education, joined and reported on progress made in implementing previous recommendations from our nation’s tribes, but emphasized there is much more to be done.

*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.

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.