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 4: Apply to Reading and Children's Literature

Guideline: While American Indian students need to read and learn about the wider, non-Indian world, they also need to see people like themselves and other American Indians accurately portrayed in what they read. Unfortunately, many children's books, even some recent ones, often portray American Indians in a stereotypical or negative fashion. Educators should seek out relevant reading materials for native students.

*NEW* Children's Stories - Choctaw Nation

This Choctaw nation website offers four stories and four Choctaw legends passed on from generation to generation, told here by Peter Hudson, a Choctaw, who called them Peter's Own.  This Choctaw nation website also includes: History and Culture, Tribal Services, Business and Commerce, Contacts and Applications, and a Media Page featuring Press Releases.

*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.

*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.

Indian Reading Series: Stories and Legends of the Northwest

This Education Northwest resource provides "140 culturally relevant stories with teacher's guides written by Indian authors and illustrated by Indian artists that offer a unique supplementary reading and language development program for Indian and non-Indian children."

*NEW* American Indians in Children's Literature

Established in 2006, American Indians in Children's Literature (AICL) provides critical perspectives and analysis of indigenous peoples in children's and young adult books, the school curriculum, popular culture, and society. Links to book reviews, Native media, "Best Books" from 2014 through 2017, and recommended reading for students K-12.

*NEW* Native American Children's Literature Recommended Reading List

This recommended reading list, sponsored by the First Nations Development Institute, and curated by Debbie Reese, PhD, offers a reading list for preschoolers, head start, Kindergarten through 3rd grade, middle school (4th - 7th grade), high school, and graphic novels. Dr. Reese is an expert in the field of Native children’s literature, an educator, and has served on many national literacy boards. She holds a Ph.D. in Education from the University of Illinois, and a Masters of Library and Information Science from San Jose State University. Dr. Reese is the editor and publisher of the "American Indians in Children’s Literature" (AICL) website.

*NEW* Suggested Reading from NCAI

This National Caucus of American Indian website offers a list of suggested reading.

*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. 

A Gathering of Readers

This link to a University of Texas' School of Information website offering resources on native literature.

American Indian Children's Books

The resource provides a list of recommended American Indian children's books compiled by Rose Marie Johnson & Rose M. McGuire, Denver Public Schools, July 2006. With each book the list identifies a suggested grade level, tribe of origin, genre, possible teaching points, question and discussion points and a brief overview.

Reading, Writing and Finding Sovereignty

In this article Dr. Jon Reyhner, Northern Arizona University, takes a look at how native students can enhance their tribal and personal sovereignty through reading and writing.

Reviews & Recommendations of Indian Children's Books

As noted at its website, "Oyate is a Native organization working to see that native Indian lives and histories are portrayed honestly, and so that all people will know that their stories belong to the respective tribes." The resource offers reviews and recommendations on Indian children's books.

Teaching Reading to American Indian/Alaska Native Students

Authored by Dr. Jon Reyhner, Northern Arizona University, "this digest summarizes ways to help young American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) children become fluent readers--an essential skill if they are to succeed in school."

*NEW* A Critical Bibliography on North American Indians, for K-12

The past ten years or so have seen an increase in both the volume and quality of books about American Indians for children. Several excellent nonfiction series have appeared (most notably, Chelsea House's "Indians of North America" and Lerner Publications' "We Are Still Here" series; titles from both are reviewed in this bibliography), and Native authors and artists are finally seeing print with major publishers. Fiction has not fared so well, as authors' "creative license" is often used as an excuse for stereotypical flights of fancy masquerading as multicultural literature.  Nevertheless, it is in books where the greatest potential exists for bringing Americans in touch with the American Indian of reality, not fantasy. With the emphasis on multicultural literature from children's book publishers these days, how does one sort out which titles have been rushed into print or repackaged to meet the demand for books on "diversity" from sensitive and accurate works that avoid stereotypes?  Several bibliographies and guides have been published in recent years, some of them mere booklists of "Indian" books without any analysis (often appearing as chapters in guides to "multicultural literature"). Some are annotated bibliographies that simply describe the storyline and content. The most useful guides, however, are those that critically evaluate the images, descriptions, and portrayals of Native people, such as this bibliography. The accuracy of the portrayal of the Indian character(s) is the focal point of these annotations. This is important. Books are usually reviewed by the major review journals for their literary accomplishment, reading level, appeal to young readers, and attractiveness of illustrations. Almost never do these mainstream reviews consider the accuracy of the portrayals of Native cultures, or, for that matter, of any other cultures. A book may have a riveting and exciting storyline, but appalling depictions of Indian characters.

The annotations in this bibliography address all of these concerns. Like the best of its peers, it contains critical annotations and evaluations---not just plot summaries---of Indian books. Both positive and negative depictions are described, and the editors are not hesitant to point out controversial titles and disagreements about specific books. There is good balance and fair treatment in these reviews.

*NEW* Teaching Reading With Puppets - Will Native Languages Survive?

In Canada and the United States today, there are approximately 210 indigenous languages are still spoken out of the over 300 spoken before the arrival of Columbus.  However, all is not well with these remaining indigenous languages.  For a language to stay alive, somebody has to be learning it.  Recent research indicates that only 35 of the remaining languages spoken in the United States and Canada are spoken by young people.  Will these remaining languages survive? Today, children are no longer being punished routinely for speaking their language in schools.  Many schools with indigenous populations, particularly on Indian reserves and reservations, have indigenous language programs.  However, having a language programs does not guarantee that children are learning their languages.

*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.

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.