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.


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.

Task 2: Be Aware of American Indian Learning Styles

Guideline: Students learn in different ways. For example, some students prefer to work individually, while others like to work in groups. Some students are happy enough to sit and listen to a teacher lecture or read a book, while others need to learn through hands-on activities. Since classrooms are full of students with different learning styles, it is beneficial for educators to vary the way they present instructional content so all students have an opportunity to learn in their preferred way.
Overview: There are differences among children in terms of how they "learn to learn" in their homes. These differences can affect how successful they are in school. For instance, in some homes children are expected to be very respectful of adults and to be "seen and not heard," while in other homes children are encouraged to ask questions about anything and everything because the parents think that is how children learn. Dr. Lori Alvord Arviso, the first female Navajo surgeon, recalled in her 1999 autobiography, 'The Scalpel and the Silver Bear', that subject matter preparation was not the only problem she faced when she went to college. She writes, "Navajos are taught from the youngest age never to draw attention to ourselves. So Navajo children do not raise their hands in class. At a school like Dartmouth, the lack of participation was seen as a sign not of humility but lack of interest and a disengaged attitude." Later in medical school she was viewed as "remote and disinterested" for similar reasons.

Teaching and Learning With Native Americans

Intended for non-Native American adult educators teaching adults, this guide may be helpful for all educators with gaining an understanding of native students.

Promising Education Interventions to Improve the Achievement of Native American Students

The purpose of this 2015 annotated bibliography is to identify interventions, and supporting research, that may benefit educators in their efforts to close the American Indian/Alaskan Native achievement gap. It answers the question: What are promising programs, policies, practices, and processes related to improving academic and non-academic outcomes for American Indian/Alaskan Native students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade?  Collectively, the articles included in this bibliography relate to a broad range of Indigenous peoples, including American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. Studies touch on Indians living on reservations, students in Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools, students in tribally controlled schools, and English Language Learners.

Traditional Native Americans: Concepts About Learning Characteristics

Native Americans share some common ways of dealing with information. This website, shared by Andy Forsythe, a teacher on the Rosebud Reservation in Mission, SD, who has been involved with Lakota culture and Native communities for quite a few years offers these learning concepts .

"The suggestions of characteristics of TNA (Traditional Native Americans) is not definitive and will not apply to all Native people. These may be some characteristics of some traditional individuals but will vary depending on circumstances such age, geographic region they live in (i.e. on or off the reservation, or which community they live in within the reservation), and most importantly their tribal affiliations. Lakota traditions will be different from Ute traditions which will be different from Tlingit traditions and so on." 

American Indian Learning Styles Survey: An Assessment of Teachers Knowledge

This report on a survey of non-Indian and Indian educators, investigating the knowledge of learning styles on the part of the educators. The study also addresses how much the educators believe that cultural values of American Indians influences a student's learning style and demonstration of learning.

American Indian and Alaskan Native Learning Styles

Authored by Karen Swisher, Ed.D., this article reviews the effect of learning styles in the teaching of American Indian and Alaskan Native students. It provides an overview of the research on learning styles and suggests how teachers should approach understanding how their native students learn. As Director of the Center for Indian Education at Arizona State University, Dr. Swisher was instrumental in recognizing learning styles as an important element in the professional development of pre-service and in-service teachers in schools attended by American Indian and Alaskan Native children.

Classroom Implications of the Learning Styles of American Indian and Alaska Native Students

Authored by Soleste Hilberg and Roland Tharp, "this Digest begins with a brief discussion of two prominent definitions of learning styles and then describes studies that have found differences between the learning styles of American Indian students and students of other cultural groups. The Digest then presents instructional interventions stemming from learning styles research."  Download PDF

Culturally Responsive Instructional Resources for American Indian/Alaska Native Students

This featured collection focuses on resources that support culturally responsive teaching for American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) students. Culturally responsive teaching is defined as the application of cultural knowledge, prior experiences, perspectives, and performance styles of AI/AN students to develop more personal connections to classroom learning.

Effective Teaching Strategies for Engaging Native American Students

This 2006 report by Harold L. Sorkness, presented at the National Association of Native American Studies, reported the study of two teachers of Native American students in South Dakota along with a group of K-12 teachers in Montana. The teachers were surveyed to determine which teaching methods were the most beneficial to their American Indian students.  Teachers were also asked which aspects of the Native American culture had significant impact on classroom interactions.

Holistic Teaching/Learning for Native American Students

Based upon his experience with the Native Americans of Northeastern Arizona Dr. Robert Rhodes explains how Native American students learn through a holistic approach. Through his experiences he describes a Native American learning style, and how it impacts teaching styles and the learning environment. This website offered free download of this journal article by Dr. Rhodes.

Learning Styles of American Indian/Alaska Native Students

Authored by Dr. Cornel Pewewardy, this resource offers a review of the literature and practice implications as it relates to learning styles of American Indian/Alaska Native Students. The paper addresses the following topics: Learning Styles - Fact or Fiction; Historical Basis of the Problem: A Curriculum of Genocide; Current Approaches and Findings Toward Understanding the Learning Styles of American Indian/Alaska Natives Students; and Relationship to Current Practice.

Native Indian Learning Styles: A Review for Researchers and Teachers

This Journal of American Indian Education article provides an explanation of the theory of learning styles and the implications of such theory in educating American Indian students.

*NEW Video* Indian 101: Ladonna Harris

Indian 101 profiles Comanche political and social activist Ladonna Harris who is now passing on her traditional cultural and leadership values to a new generation of emerging Indigenous leaders.

*NEW Video* Restructuring Schools to Nurture Native American Students

The high school graduation rate for Native Americans is the lowest of any ethnic or racial group in the United States. How can the government assist reservation schools while respecting autonomy of tribes? In this 2014 PBS 'News Hour" television program, Judy Woodruff talks to Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, about a series of initiatives announced by President Obama on how to undo deep-seated education challenges for Native American Indians.

*NEW video* Native Education Groups Improving the Graduation Rates

This September 2013 video states for many Native Americans, a higher education can seem an impossible goal, especially if they are struggling to overcome major obstacles like poverty or isolation. However, nonprofits like American Indian Student Support Services, at Arizona State University, help students find their way to college. The program has improved graduation rates at ASU, with nearly three-quarters of all program participants graduating and going on to successful careers. The program travels to Native American communities and encourages and supports young people with dreams of attaining a higher education.

*NEW* A Survey and Assessment of Culturally Based Education Programs for Native American Students in the United States

In this 2006 Volume 45, Issue 2 of the Journal of American Indian Education, author David Beaulieu explains his project to study the feasibility of doing experimental or quasi-experimental research to determine the impact of culturally based education upon the academic achievement of Native American students. In our work, we have relied upon the notion illustrated in the theoretical literature that the purposes of the school-particularly in the area of academic achievement-are accomplished through culturally based educational approaches appropriate to students.

*NEW* The Learning Styles of Native American Students

There is no homogenous group of people that fits the term Native American (Love and Kallam, 2007). There are 564 federally recognized American Indian tribes and bands in the contingent 48 states (Bureau of Indian Affairs, 2009) and the authors cannot pretend to speak for or address the unique concerns of each within such a large and diverse group of people. Beyond the diversity due to affiliation, Native Americans have varying levels of acculturation. Some Native Americans lead a traditional lifestyle, while others are fully acculturated into mainstream America, and most are somewhere in between. A number of
state and federal agencies use the term American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN). The authors of this paper use the term American Indian (AI), a term more often used among those who recognize that their ancestors were indigenous to this continent.  The purposes of this paper are to provide educators, who often try to use a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching this culturally diverse group, with some new elements to consider, and also to encourage the use of teaching
styles and strategies that can lead to greater success for American Indian students.  More than one-third of the American Indian service population resides in Oklahoma according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (2009), making the need for culturally responsive teaching mandatory for educators in our region.

Indian School Whisperer, Dave Archambault, Sr. (VIDEO)

In this 2013 video, Dave Archambault, Sr., states that existing and past schooling policies of the U.S. government are effectively genocide; wasting the customs and beliefs of First Americans.  Born on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, Dave Leon Archambault received the Lakota name, 'Itazipo Wakinyan' meaning Thunder Bow. He holds a Masters Degree in Education Administration from Penn State University. Mr. Archambault has worked as an educator, an administrator, and a consultant at Indian schools and tribal colleges throughout his career.

Thriving in Indian Country: What's in the Way and How Do We Overcome? (Video)

In this 2017 TEDx video presentation, Dr. Anton Treuer, Professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University, gives a focused look at mascots, microaggressions, and helping Native Americans thrive. Dr. Treuer states, "It can’t be a recipe for a healthy nation if our largest demographic of kids is only getting to the finish line a little over half the time. Somehow, we’re going to have to start listening to other perspectives.”  An author of 14 books, Dr. Treuer has a BA from Princeton University and an MA and PhD from the University of Minnesota. He is Editor of the Oshkaabewis Native Journal, the only academic journal of the Ojibwe language. Throughout the world, Dr. Treuer has shared the following presentations: 'Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians but Were Afraid to Ask', 'Cultural Competence & Equity, Strategies for Addressing the “Achievement” Gap', and 'Tribal Sovereignty, History, Language, and Culture'. 

Thriving in Indian Country: What's in the Way and How Do We Overcome? (Video)

In this 2017 TEDx video presentation, Dr. Anton Treuer, Professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University, gives a focused look at mascots, microaggressions, and helping Native Americans thrive. Dr. Treuer states, "It can’t be a recipe for a healthy nation if our largest demographic of kids is only getting to the finish line a little over half the time. Somehow, we’re going to have to start listening to other perspectives.”  An author of 14 books, Dr. Treuer has a BA from Princeton University and an MA and PhD from the University of Minnesota. He is Editor of the Oshkaabewis Native Journal, the only academic journal of the Ojibwe language. Throughout the world, Dr. Treuer has shared the following presentations: 'Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians but Were Afraid to Ask', 'Cultural Competence & Equity, Strategies for Addressing the “Achievement” Gap', and 'Tribal Sovereignty, History, Language, and Culture'. 

*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* Special Issue on Culturally Responsive Education for American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian Students

This 2007 Special Issue of the Journal of American Indian Education features a collection of articles the authors express are particularly important in advocating for support of Native families, communities and activists committed to revitalizing and preserving Indigenous languages and cultures, especially given current ultraconservative efforts to impose English-Only legislation on sovereign Indigenous nations and the general public. The authors state these articles expose patterns of outright discrimination by federal, state, and local government agencies and total disregard for federal laws and court-mandated regulation such as Lau vs. Nichols (1974) and the 1992 Native American Languages Act.

*NEW* Striving to Achieve: Helping Native American Student Succeed

This 32-page paper from the National Caucus of Native American State Legislators explores the state of education for Native American students in grades K through 12.

Indian Education in New Mexico, 2025

In 2007, the New Mexico Indian Education Study, 2025, embarked on a statewide research.  This study indicates that Best Practices in Indian Education entail providing a culturally responsive education for Native students. Culturally responsive education requires systemic reform and transformation in educational ideologies.  Such a task is not easily accomplished in a rigid public school structure that is bound by state and federal laws.

Successfully Educating Urban American Indian Students: An Alternative School Format

This 2003 Journal of American Indian Education (V42, Issue 3) explores an educator who stepped away from the status quo of traditional high school teaching methods and created an educational haven for American Indian students in this case study.