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 3: Be Familiar with Tribal Immersion Schools

Guideline: Tribal language and culture immersion schools provide an important way to make real the goals of the 1990 Native American Languages Act and the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. They affirm the identities of American Indian students and traditional values and increase their academic achievement.


Cultivating Native Hawaiian Learning: Hawaiian-focused Charter Schools

In this first of a three-part article series by Kamehameha Schools, Hawaiian-focused charter school (HFCS) founders, leaders, teachers, and ?ohana who recognize that culture-based education is a pathway to improve Native Hawaiian well-being. In the early 2000s, Hawaiian-focused charter schools were created to provide teaching and learning environments grounded in Hawaiian language and culture.“We learned early on that the deepest learning and strongest engagement happens when learners find relevancy in their learning,” said Charlene Hoe, founder of the Hakipu?u Learning Center (HLC). The K?ne?ohe school is one of 17 Hawaiian-focused public charter and conversion schools supported by Kamehameha Schools (KS).

*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* 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.

ABQ Charter School Set to Expand ‘Culturally Relevant Education’ to Other Grades

This 2015 Indian Country Today article introduces the Native American Community Academy, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a small public charter school offering grades 6 through 12, celebrated its fourth class of high school graduates in 2015. The school, which opened in 2006 with 85 students in grades 6 and 7, next fall will welcome its first-ever incoming kindergarten class.

Charter Schools Helping Tribes Revive Fading Native Languages

Preserving indigenous languages and repairing decades of cultural loss is critical to most, if not all, of the nation's tribal communities, and charter schools seem to be playing a notable role in that endeavor.  This 2014 Education Week article introduces a group of tribal leaders and educators In Massachusetts are seeking to open a charter school by fall 2015 on Cape Cod, as part of broader effort to resurrect Wôpanâak, an all-but-dead language that had been spoken by a collective of tribes known as the Wampanoag Nation.

First Nation Languages: Why We Need Them

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

How Hawaiian Came Back From the Dead

This June 2016 SLATE article by Alexandria Neason, explores how a legacy of colonialism nearly wiped out the Hawaiian language, and its culture. Efforts to revitalize the language began in the mid-1980s when a network of private Hawaiian immersion preschools called ‘Aha P?nana Leo (the language nest) successfully lobbied the state to reverse the colonial-era ban on the language. In 1987, the Hawai‘i Department of Education began its own network of public Hawaiian language-immersion schools, called Ka Papahana Kaiapuni. Today, 15 traditional public schools and six charter schools educate some 2,000 of the state’s public school students in Hawaiian.


Mashpee Wampanoag School Looks To Revive Teachings Of Native Language

This 2017 ED Edify article from explores the Wampanoag Language Immersion School, "Mukayuhsak Weekuw", or, "the children's house", in Mashpee, Massachusettes opened in September of 2016.  A Wampanoag class for the Mashpee Public Schools is under development.

Mohawk Students Must Leave Their Nation to Attend High School

This June 2019 Indian Country Today article details how students on the Mohawk territory that spans across two countries, a state, and two provinces must travel to Canada or the U.S. to attend high school. The article also feature the Akwesasne Freedom School, one of five immersion schools for Mohawk youth living in Akwesasne, a territory that straddles the U.S.-Canada border. These schools were created to revive Mohawk language and culture after previous generations were forced to attend residential schools, a system that made Native people eradicate their own culture and assimilate into Western ways of living.

Tsunade Loquasdi Charter Immersion School

In 2012, the Cherokee Nation became the first Native American tribe to authorized a charter school. The tribe is the authorizer of the Tsunade Loquasdi Immersion School in Oklahoma, which in 2011 served 112 pre-kindergarten through 8th grade students. This website offers testimony from former Tsunade Loquasdi students.

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.