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

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.


Task 1: Be Aware of U.S. American Indian Language Policy

Guideline: Through most of the history of the United States, American Indian students were discouraged from speaking their native language in schools and even punished for speaking them. This assimilationist educational policy was changed in 1990 when President George H.W. Bush signed the Native American Languages Act (Title I of Public Law 101-477). In this act, Congress said "the status of the cultures and languages of Native Americans is unique and the United States has the responsibility to act together with Native Americans to ensure the survival of these unique cultures and languages." Congress made it the policy of the United States to "preserve, protect, and promote the rights and freedom of Native Americans to use, practice, and develop Native American languages." The act also recognized the "right of Indian tribes and other Native American governing bodies to use the Native American languages as a medium of instruction in all schools funded by the Secretary of the Interior." Furthermore, the act declared "the right of Native Americans to express themselves through the use of Native American languages shall not be restricted in any public proceeding, including publicly supported education programs."The Native American Languages Act has three important implications. First, it is a continuation of the policy of American Indian self-determination that has been in effect for the last fifty years. Second, it is a reversal of the historic policy of the United States government to suppress American Indian languages in Bureau of Indian Affairs and other schools. Third, it is a reaction to attempts to make English the official language of the United States. In 2006, Congress voted to authorize more funding for language revitalization with the passage of the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act.

*NEW* Native American Languages with Map

This website lists the mapped native languages of the Americas, which are among the most numerous and varied in the world, and provides scholars with rich sources of information on the many ways people make speech and language.  The number of distinct languages in North America figures in the hundreds, however, by studying similarities and differences, scientists have placed most tribes into one of about 12 groups.

*NEW* The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 - A NIEA Summary

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 was passed as the largest education civil rights law to better support low-income, minority, and disadvantaged students. From 2001 to 2015, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) iteration of the ESEA dictated how public schools served students nationally. NCLB emphasized a high-stakes testing culture and tied teacher performance to student outcomes. The reauthorization of the ESEA, in December 2015, named the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) fundamentally changes public education by shifting the power and autonomy from the federal to state governments. Under ESSA, states and local districts have greater flexibility in educating their students.  The ESSA law places emphasis on state and local innovation and highlights a new era, providing a great deal of flexibility to our states and local districts. NIEA has fought for greater tribal participation in educating Native students. Through ten plus years of advocacy, the ESSA includes several Native specific provisions that will better support Native students.

2007 United Nations Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP)

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was adopted by the UN General Assembly on Thursday, 13 September 2007, by a majority of 144 states in favor, 4 votes against (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States) and 11 abstentions (Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burundi, Colombia, Georgia, Kenya, Nigeria, Russian Federation, Samoa and Ukraine). Click here to view the voting record. In the 11 years that have passed, 4 of the counties that voted against the declaration reversed their decision and now support the declaration.  The goal of the Declaration is to encourage countries to work alongside indigenous peoples to solve global issues, like development, multicultural democracy and decentralization.[10] According to Article 31, there is a major emphasis that the indigenous peoples will be able to protect their cultural heritage and other aspects of their culture and tradition in order to preserve their heritage from over controlling nation-states. Know your Rights - for Indigenous Adolescents

Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act of 2006

The Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act of 2006 amends the Native American Programs Act of 1974 to authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services, as part of the Native American languages grant program, to make three-year grants for educational Native American language nests, survival schools, and restoration programs.

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.

Native American Languages Act of 1990

This link is to the Native American Languages Act of 1990.

*NEW* Know the Laws - National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs

This National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs website advocates knowledge of U.S. Native American Language Act (NALA) of 1990, as well as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2016, and what still needs to be done to preserve Native American Languages. 

Native American Language Map

*NEW* 9 Ways the New Education Law Is a Win for Indian Country

The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 is a big win for Indian country, according to the National Indian Education Association (NIEA) reports Tanya H. Lee in this February 2016 Indian Country Today article. NIEA Executive Director Ahniwake Rose, Cherokee/Creek, and Federal Policy Associate Dimple Patel explained why in a January 27 webinar, “Understanding the Every Student Succeeds Act.” ESSA, signed into law by President Obama on December 10, reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, a piece of civil rights legislation meant to protect the nation’s most vulnerable children. ESSA replaces the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act and shifts much of the responsibility for elementary and secondary education from the federal government to the states.  For the first time ever, states and local educational agencies (LEAs) are required to engage in meaningful consultation with tribes or tribal organizations in the development of state plans for Title I grants. Further, LEAs must consult with tribes before making any decision that affects opportunities for American Indian/Alaska Native students in programs, services or activities funded by ESSA.

American Indian Language Policy and School Success

Authored by Dr. Jon Reyhner, Northern Arizona University, this article discusses the link between students' academic success and their retention of their native language and culture.

*NEW video* The Navajo Code Talkers, Our Heroes

This video was shown in the House of Representatives at the Arizona State Capital during the Navajo Code Talker Monument dedication on February 28, 2008.

*NEW* An Emerging Native Language Education Framework for Reservation Public Schools with Mixed Populations

This 2008 Volume 47, Issue 2 of the Journal of American Indian Education, author Phyllis Bo-yuen Ngai, gathered grassroots input across communities with mixed populations like the Flathead Indian Reservation Montana. Study participants suggested approaches for dealing with existing obstacles and ways to include diverse, local perspectives.  The emerging framework presented here consists of prerequisite conditions, action steps, and program elements that are abstracted from their district-based recommendations and reservation-wide recommendations.  This initial blueprint includes guidelines for increasing and improving Native language learning on, and possibly beyond, the research sites.

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.

*NEW* Native American Languages Act: Twenty Years Later, Has It Made a Difference?

This July 18, 2012 Cultural Survival article explores United States government policy, namely in 1990, Congress passed the Native American Languages Act (NALA), recognizing that “the status of the cultures and languages of Native Americans is unique and the United States has the responsibility to act together with Native Americans to ensure [their] survival.” The article reviews that Congress updated the NALA in 1992, adding a grant program to “assist Native Americans in assuring the survival and continuing vitality of their languages.”   Additional financing became available through the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act of 2006 (with an additional $12 million in 2009). After review of current Native Language legislation, this article ponders, "Native American Languages Act: Twenty Years Later, Has It Made a Difference?"


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.