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 4: Learn About Tribal Language Immersion Schools

Guideline: Following efforts in New Zealand and Hawaii, language immersion schools are being established for English-speaking American Indian students. These students are immersed in their tribal language for their first years of school to enable them to become fluent speakers of their tribal language and of English. Evidence from indigenous immersion schools indicate that these bilingual students can be academically successful, fluent speakers of English and their tribal language. They are also more likely to have successful educational experiences.

Potawatomi Children's Language Course Online

This Potawatomi website offers an online children's language course, a Two-Semester High School Course, and College Courses; as well as an online adult language course. The Potawatomi language department wants for people to use and speak this language. They want more people as we head into the future to not be afraid to speak Potawatomi.

Pumvhakv School Online Learning Center - Seminole Nation

This Pumvhakv Online Learning Center offers online video Alphabet Lessons, Lessons on Telling Time, Locations, Descriptions, Present Tense, Command Forms, and Conversational Phrases in the Maskoke language.  Learning Materials are also available. The Pumvhakv School will soon host online language lessons through Adobe connect.

*NEW* Indigenous Language Immersion Schools for Strong Indigenous Identities

Drawing on evidence from indigenous language programs in the United States, this Fall 2010 article by Dr. Jon Reyhner, makes the case that these immersion programs are vital to healing the negative effects of colonialism and assimilationist schooling that have disrupted many indigenous homes and communities. It describes how these programs are furthering effects to decolonize indigenous education and helping further United Nations policies supporting the rights of indigenous peoples.


*NEW* Language Immersion Schools

This study, featured by the American Indian College Fund and, supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, focused on Native American language immersion schools and projects, describes and analyzes Native Education for children and families. A people’s initiative, Native American language immersion encompasses educational practices and social development that lie outside the mainstream methods of language teaching, education, and socialization methods of American children. Native American language immersion programs are characterized by Native ways of knowing, learning, and indigenous knowledge.

Aha Punana Leo

As noted at its website, "The 'Aha Puana Leo, best known for our Language Nest Preschools, is the leading entity in Hawai'i and the United States for indigenous language revitalization. In the past 20 years, it has moved the Hawaiian language from a population with less than 40 children speakers to one with over 2,000 children speakers. The organization's reach expands beyond the Hawaiian Islands to other indigenous communities, especially other Native American communities, where its model is assisting other peoples in their efforts to save their languages from extinction. Its vision is E ola ka ‘alelo Hawai‘i, the Hawaiian language shall live."

Four Stages of Language Acquisition

This article from describes the four stages all English language learner students go through in learning English.

Leupp Navajo Immersion Program

This article from the newsletter of the National Association for Bilingual Education describes an immersion program in a public school in the Navajo Nation that teaches a Navajo curriculum aligned to state standards.

Native American Language Immersion: Innovative Native Education

This report is a project of the American Indian College Fund and written by Janine Pease-Pretty On Top with the introduction by Richard Littlebear with research supported by the W.K.Kellogg  Foundation of Battle Creek, Michigan. The focus of this study is of a people’s initiative, Native American language immersion encompasses educational practices and social development that lie outside the mainstream language teaching, education, and socializing methods of American children.

Piegan Institute

As noted at its website, "the Piegan Institute serves as a vehicle to research, promote and preserve Native languages. Its national and community-based programs are on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in northwest Montana. Our community-based objectives are to increase the number of Blackfeet language speakers, to increase the cultural knowledge base of community members, and to actively influence positive community-based change." Also known ss Cut's Wood Immersion School, Native American students are shown on their own YouTube channel,

*NEW video* Navajo Children Thrive in Native Language Immersion School

This video features how the University of New Mexico is taking part in a study that looks into how Indigenous Language Immersion schools can lead to better outcomes for Native American students.  Eva B. Stokely Elementary School in Shiprock, New Mexico is teaching its students in the Navajo language. School officials say the enrolled children are thriving academically as well as learning their cultural identity.

*NEW video* Rising Voices: Revitalizing the Lakota Language

This 2013 film features language immersion teachers and administrators whose goals are to revitalize the Lakota language and promote positive thoughts by their students about being Lakota.

*NEW Video* Saving the Lakota Language through Immersion Education

The Lakota language is a Native American language that is near extinction. In this audacious 2015 TedX video, Peter Hill shares his journey of saving the Lakota language through Lakota Immersion Childcare, also known as Iyápi Glukínipi.

*NEW video* Why Save a Language (2006)

More than half of the 300 indigenous languages of North America are now extinct. But a movement by Native peoples to resurrect and preserve these languages is thriving in many places around the continent. In this film, Native people from various tribes and languages discuss the heart wrenching loss of indigenous languages, and the importance of keeping what remains alive. An important film for any interested in linguistics, saving Native American Indian languages, and saving global languages.

*NEW* Akwesasne (Mohawk) Freedom School (New York)

In Roosevelt, New York (upstate), the Akwesasne Mohawk Freedom School was established in 1979 to help revive the traditional Rotinoshón:ni culture and to preserve a rich and diverse language, the Akwesasne Freedom School has proven to be a unique cultural experience for people from Akwesasne and around the world.

*NEW* Ayaprun Elitnaurvik Yup’ik Immersion School (Alaska)

A concentrated Bethel, Alaska community effort led to the formation of Ayaprun Elitnaurvik that offered a total immersion Yup’ik program. The school expanded one grade at a time, and was given Charter status in 1999. Sixth grade was introduced in the year 2002. K-1 school is in their own building, while 2-6 is in the south wing of Kilbuck Elementary.The program at Ayaprun Elitnaurvik is based on the elementary school curriculum offered in all district schools. This includes language arts, music, art, social studies, math, science, and physical education. But here, the students also acquire a second language. K-2 is mostly taught in Yup’ik along with the delivery of oral English Language Development. In grade 3, Yup’ik is taught 75% and 50% in grades 4-6.

*NEW* Cherokee Immersion Charter School (Oklahoma)

In Tahlequah, Oklahoma, Tsalagi Tsunadeloquasdi began in 2001 as a language preservation program. Twenty-six students and four staff members paved the way to revitalizing the language with our young people. Our mission is to promote the revitalization/usage of the Cherokee language while educating children in a safe and cultural environment. In the 2013-2014 school year, Tsa la gi tsu na de lo qua s di served more than 90 children in pre-school (3-year-olds) through sixth grade. Lessons are taught from a Cherokee cultural perspective while addresses addressing the Oklahoma PASS (Priority Academic Student Skills) objectives.

*NEW* Dine Bi'olta Navajo Immersion School (Arizona)

“Béédaa?niih: Diné bizaad bídahwiil’aah. Táadoo biligáana k’ehjí yádaal?ti’í. Ahéhee’.” These are the first words that visitors see on a sign at the entrance of Tsé Hootsooí Diné Bi’ Olta’, an elementary immersion school in Rock Point, Arizona, that teaches the Navajo language to its 157 students on the capital of the Navajo Nation. The Dine Bi'olta Navajo Immersion School obtained a 5-star rating from Great Schools!

*NEW* Lakota Immersion Nest School (North Dakota)

This video introduces the Lakota Immersion Nest School located in Fort Yates, North Dakota also known as the Sitting Bull College Immersion Nest started in September 2012 to a group of 11 3-year olds and has been running constantly since. The program will be pulling from several best early childhood practices to teach the children in total immersion; Lakota. Initially funded through an Administration of Native Americans grant.

*NEW* Native American Community Academy (New Mexico)

The Native American Community Academy (NACA) is a tuition-free public charter school serving students in middle and high school. (grades 6th to 12th), originally located in the Southeast Heights of Albuquerque  New Mexico. Our new location is 1000 Indian School Road NW Albuquerque, NM 87104. NACA is a small school that integrates culture, wellness, language, community, family, and preparation for college into each child’s education.  Students of all backgrounds are welcome at NACA.

*NEW* Niigaane Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig Ojibwe Immersion School (Minnesota)

The Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig Niigaane Ojibwe Immersion School was developed in 2003 to revitalize the Ojibwe language on the Leech Lake Reservation. It began with Adrian Liberty and others who hoped to build the program out one year at a time, starting with the youngest students at Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School and making the immersion program a school within a school. The idea was not to focus on teaching Ojibwe but rather to use the language as the medium of instruction in all subjects.  The immersion school’s success was enabled by a clever reallocation of existing personnel and resources. Tribal elder and fluent speaker Mark Wakonabo, who had served for decades as janitor at the school, used his talent to teach alongside Liberty in the immersion school.

*NEW* Nkwusm - Salish Language School (Montana)

It is the dream of four young Salish people to revitalize the Salish Language and bring it back to the people.  Founded in 2002 in Arlee, Montana, Nk??usm Salish Language School is the beginning of the realization of that dream. Serving preschool through eighth-grade students on the Flathead Reservation in northwestern Montana, Nk??usm operates 2 programs: Salish Language Apprentice Program and Nk??usm - Salish Language School.  The organization is committed to revitalizing the Salish Language through development of a school and other community learning programs.  Nk??usm continues to lead the way in Salish language revitalization by operating the language school. Nk??usm works to ensure the continuation of the language in the community by maintaining, enhancing and creating comprehensive Salish language education programs for youth and adults.

*NEW* Teaching the Whole Child: Language Immersion and Student Achievement

This 2014 Indian Country Today article ask first, what do we mean by Native-language immersion? It may be easier to begin with what immersion is not. Native-language immersion is not simply “Native language instruction.” It is not a pullout program or a 50-minute class. Native-language immersion is not submersion, a method that compels students to learn a second language at the expense of their mother tongue. A 2012 study showed that Navajo immersion brought parents and elders into the program, reinforcing intergenerational ties.

*NEW* The Ways, Waadookodaading: Ojibwe Language Immersion School (Wisconsin)

Waadookodaading: Ojibwe Language Immersion School tells a story of resilience and revitalization. This video shows how an Ojibwe immersion school integrates the tradition of sugaring into their curriculum. These Wisconsin students are speaking the language of their ancestors, Ojibwemowin.

*NEW* Wicoie Nandagikendan Dakota Ojibwe Immersion Preschool (Minnesota)

Wicoie Nandagikendan Early Childhood Urban Immersion Program is the first indigenous urban preschool immersion program created in Minneapolis. Wicoie Nandagikendan offers a 3 hour immersion experience comparable to the preschool lessons in the English classrooms but they are taught entirely in Dakota or Ojibwe languages. In 2002, the Dakota Ojibwe Language Revitalization Alliance (DOLRA) was formed. DOLRA was a support group for people working in language revitalization efforts to network and share ideas.

First Nation Languages: Why We Need Them

This Manitoba First Nations Resource booklet for students and families explains why language based education requires support.

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.