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 3: Avoid Biased Teaching and Stereotypes

Guideline: Misperceptions of American Indians abound in western culture. Some such stereotypes have carried over into educational practices and curriculum. Images such as American Indians wearing feathers, living in a tipi, making whooping sounds, and being associated with Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims do not present children with an accurate portrayal of native people. For this reason, it is important for educators to study American Indians in a way that allows students to see the diversity and uniqueness of the individual tribes.

*NEW* 10 More Things Teachers Should Never Do When Educating Native Youth

This September 2017 Indian Country article follows up the article 10 Things Teachers Should Never Do When Teaching Native Kids with these additional 10 More Things Teachers Should Never Do When Educating Native Youth which include: overlooking a Native Student's indigenous identity, stereotypically referring to all Native American Indians in the past-tense, teaching the stereotypical Thanksgiving story, using false Indian language or slang, denying American Indian genocide, asking a Native American student to speak for all Native American people, and make assumptions upon their appearance or name whether they are Native American or not.  The pulse of the entire article encourages educators of Native American students is not to give up on them.

7 Things Teachers Need to Know About Native American Heritage Month

In these November 2014 Indian Country Today, and 2017 Students at the Center.Hub articles by Christina Rose, teachers are offered 7 things to know about American Indian History Month. Without guidance, too many teachers will celebrate Native American Heritage Month in the only ways they know how: paper bag vests and feathers, classroom pow wows, and discussions on who Indians were.  Even for teachers with the best intentions, great material may be hard to recognize without understanding the basics: worldview, sovereignty, circular thinking, true history. Teachers who teach local history with facts that include real outcomes will find their students more engaged than when they teach solely from history books.  Teachers can’t know what they don’t know, and if they have never spent time immersed in any Native culture they won’t know the effects of colonization or of ongoing issues in U.S. and Native politics. If teachers do not know the very basic and important facts, they cannot teach Native studies from an unbiased point of view.

Appropriate Methods When Teaching About Native American Peoples

This resource provides a checklist of "Do's and Don'ts" with approriate methods to use when teaching about Native Americans.

Teacher's Tool for Reflective Practice

From McREL, "this self-reflection journaling tool is intended to provide teachers and their colleagues with the opportunity to reflect on cultural differences between themselves and their students and to consider alternative interaction styles and contexts for learning."

10 Things Teachers Should Never Do When Teaching Native Kids

In this September 2017 Indian Country Today article, advice is offered to teachers. Teachers often ask Native students about anything that comes up about Native Americans. Tell your child’s teachers that every tribe is different as are opinions among Indigenous Peoples, and your child cannot speak for everyone. Recommend books like 500 Nations by Alvin M. Josephy.

Countering Bias through an Inclusive Curriculum

This Albuquerque Public Schools website instructional strategies are offered through the Indian Education Department (IED). This guide for classroom educators to develop culturally relevant and appropriate instructional lessons that are sensitive and inclusive of Native American learning styles values by Cajete, (2000) and culture.  Currently APS provides educational services to approximately 6,000 Native American students belonging to over 115 tribes. Throughout the 1990s, educators have called for change in U.S. schools, including changes that celebrate the diversity in American culture and language usage. One result of this important reform movement has been the development of an anti-bias perspective in curriculum and instruction. The Native American child has a need to have their history, heritage, language, and culture valued and appreciated at all levels of education.

10 Quick Ways to Analyze Children's Books for Racism and Sexism

This article from the Council on Interracial Books for Children provides guidance in selecting bias-free reading materials for children.

Six Misconceptions About Native American People - Teen Vogue (VIDEO)

In this November 2016 video, seven Native American girls, (Laurel Cotton, Duannette Reyome, Evannah Moniz-Reyome, Kiera Thompson, Wacantkiya Mani Win Eagle, and Wanbli Waunsila Win Eagle), debunk the common misconceptions about their culture.

Evaluating American Indian Materials and Resources for the Classroom

This Montana Office of Public Instruction document provides suggestions for how educators can review classroom materials for biases about American Indians.

Fluff and Feathers: Treatment of American Indians in the Literature and the Classroom

This article by Cornel Peweward in the April 1998 issue of Equity & Excellence in Education discusses how Indians are often presented in a stereotyped fashion in classroom curriculum.

Teaching Tolerance

This link to the Southern Poverty Law Center's Teaching Tolerance project offers resources on teaching tolerance.

Unbiased Teaching About American Indians and Alaska Natives in Elementary Schools

This June 1990 ERIC digest reference from the Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools gives teachers realistic information about this growing population. It identifies some of the common myths about American Indians and Alaska Natives that contribute to curriculum bias. The concluding discussion suggests activities and resources to help elementary students—and their teachers—understand the realities of how Indians live today and how they lived in the past. Bias about Indians is often the result of inaccurate information. The realities of American Indian and Alaskan Native life are often oversimplified and distorted. Stylized classroom accounts of Indian life reinforce the "buckskin and feather" and the "Eskimo and igloo" stereotypes (Madison School District, 1978). With such instruction, students are certain to develop misguided impressions of Indians. In textbooks, movies, and TV programs, American Indians and Alaska Natives have been treated in ways that tend both to overlook their dignity and to disgrace their heritage.  For example, Indians who defended their homeland from invaders (and who today seek to preserve their languages and cultures) have often been viewed as enemies of progress. In the context of history, they have been viewed as barriers to the settlement of the frontier by white people. In the present, they have been viewed as a "social problem," a drain on national resources. Teachers, in short, can be the victims of the instructional materials they count on.

*NEW video* Americana Indian - Thinking Twice About Images That Matter

In her 2015 TedX presentation, Nancy Marie Mithlo focuses on American Indian stereotypes.

And Now We Rise (VIDEO)

This 2018 website features a documentary film introducing a portrait of Samuel Johns, a young Athabaskan hip hop artist, and founder of the Forget Me Not Facebook Group, which connects homeless, far flung family members, and displaced people in Alaska, and the United States.  Samuel is an activist for a cultural renaissance, as he heals from his own legacy of historical trauma. The producer states, "the general public needs to understand the impact historical trauma has had on our indigenous people, and how they are becoming involved and becoming the change. The change is brewing, and it’s hopeful."

Changing the Way We See Native Americans (VIDEO)

This 20-minute 2014 TEDx talk produced independently of the TED Conferences, features Matika Wilbur and her 2013 project of massive scope: to photograph members of each Federally recognized tribe in the United States. "My dream," Wilbur says, "is that our children are given images that are more useful, truthful, and beautiful." Matika Wilbur—photographer, activist, writer, and educator—undertook Project 562, an endeavor of unprecedented impact and scope. Project 562 seeks to photograph every Federally recognized tribe in the United States and reveal in a brilliant spectrum of art, media, and curricula, the rich and complex twenty-first century image and reality of contemporary Native Americans. A simple, heartfelt idea forms Wilbur's work: "By exposing the astonishing variety of the Indian presence and reality at this juncture, we will build cultural bridges, abandon stereotypes, and renew and inspire our national legacy."

Native American Films for Public Broadcasting and Education

This Vision Maker Media website offers both the resources to create a Native American film for public broadcasting, and a searchable gallery of Native American films such as: A Blackfeet Encounter, A Native American Night Before Christmas, A Tattoo On My Heart, Aboriginal Architecture, the Apache 8, and Aleut Story.  The search feature can drill down to the 'Initiative or Areas of Interest' along with a 'Tribe or Group selection'. Some films have educational guides and/or viewer discussion guides for educational lesson plans.

Surviving Disappearance, Re-Imagining & Humanizing Native Peoples (VIDEO)

In this 2013 video, Matika Wilbur, one of the Pacific Northwest's leading photographers, asks her audience to think about how images of Native Americans in mainstream media is false.  As a national and international artist whose photos are exhibited extensively in regional, national, and international venues such as the Seattle Art Museum, the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, The Tacoma Art Museum, the Royal British Columbia Museum of Fine Arts, and the Nantes Museum of Fine Arts in France, Matika explains how becoming a certified teacher at Tulalip Heritage High School, providing inspiration for the youth of her own indigenous community.

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'. 

Walk A Mile in My Redface: Ending the Colonial in Culture, Schools, Sports and Mass Media

In this 2014 video, Director of Portland State's Indigenous Nations Studies program, Professor Cornel Pewewardy, who is Comanche-Kiowa and an enrolled citizen of the Comanche Nation of Oklahoma, discusses culturally responsive education, as well as how Native Americans feel about Native American mascots in schools and media.  Cornel Pewewardy's excellence in the classroom was recognized by the National Indian Education Association (NIEA), which named him its 2009 Teacher of the Year.

*NEW video* A Conversation With Native Americans on Race

This 2018 New York Times video features: “A Conversation With Native Americans on Race,” the latest installment in their wide-ranging “Conversation on Race” series. Directed by Michèle Stephenson and Brian Young, the film grapples with the racist contradictions of a country that, many feel, would prefer it if Native Americans didn’t exist.

*NEW video* Red Crow Says Goodbye

In this moving 2004 video, Floyd "Red Crow" Westerman (1936 - 2007) bids farewell to this world and sends a special greeting to his Irish friends. He also discusses racism in sports, Irish activist Bobby Sands, and the goals of the American Indian Movement (AIM).  Considered AIM's "Minister of Culture" Floyd "Red Crow" Westerman passed into the spirit world on December 13th, 2007.

*NEW* American Indian Curriculum and Lesson Plans -- Minnesota

This Minnesota Office of Indian Education website provides K-12 curriculum resources, information, support and oversight to public school staff, parents and students in the area of Indian Education. 

*NEW* American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving

Each November, educators across the county teach their students about the First Thanksgiving, a quintessentially American holiday.  Educators try to give an accurate picture of Plymouth in 1621, and explain how this even fits into American history. Unfortunately, many teaching materials give incomplete or inaccurate portrayal of the First Thanksgiving, particularly the event's Native American participants.  This poster serves as a "jumping-off" point to start in-depth educational discussion and exploration.  Discussion, and other classroom ideas, are included in each section.  It is also recommended students are introduced to the 'real Thanksgiving story', found in "Harvest Ceremony: The Myth of Thanksgiving". 

*NEW* American Indians: The Image of the Indian

An early twentieth-century elementary school textbook quizzed pupils on their grasp of the lesson devoted to American Indians. It was a time of unblushing certainty about the superiority of civilization to “savagery.” “In what three ways were the Indians different from the white men,” the school text asked, and “What did the white people think of the Indians?” Judging from related questions, the correct answer was that the Indians were strange:

What was one of the strangest things that the Indians did? What strange things did the Indians believe about spirits? What strange things did the Indians do to drive the evil spirits away?

Today it is difficult even to talk about the racial stereotypes once so confidently assumed. Stereotyping as a subject for study may be historical, but the emotions it arouses are eminently present day.  This June 27, 2017 'Teacher Serve' website from the expores stereotypical views of the American Indian bolstered by ineducation, miseducation, apapthy or racism.

10 Rules for Teaching Native Students

This August 2014 Indian Country Today article shares the Andre Cramblit's 30 years of experience teaching American Indian students at all levels (parent, teachers aid, bus driver, high school teacher, education specialist, consultant, head start teacher and director, college instructor, principal, and tribal education director). They are written to an audience of supplemental American Indian Education programs and educators working with Native students. Mr. Cramblit  modified these rules and added to them over the years as he continues to learn and find other successful methodologies, practices and programs.

U.S. Schools Are Teaching Our Children That Native Americans Are History

This 2013 post originally appeared on 'Sociological Images', a Pacific Standard partner site, as “U.S. Schools Teach Children That Native Americans Are History”, explores American Indian curriculum whereas the vast majority of references to American Indians—87 percent—portrayed them as a population that existed only prior to 1900. There was “nothing,” she said, about contemporary issues for American Indian populations or the ongoing conflicts over land and water rights or sovereignty. Additionally, “All of the states are teaching that there were civil ways to end problems,” she said, “and that the Indian problem was dealt with nicely.” Only one state, Washington, uses the word genocide. Only four states mention Indian boarding schools, institutions that represent the removal of children from their families, and forced re-socialization into a Euro-American way of life.

What Every Teacher Needs to Know To Teach Native American Students

The purpose of this article is to discuss the culture and learning styles of Native American students and to offer educational practices that will likely aid this group of students to work to their potential. Many people do not recognize that Native American children are unique and differ greatly from each other, even within one community. Although Native Americans can differ greatly from each other like members of any other racial group and research does not indicate that there is a unique Native American way of learning, careful attention to common differences between Native American and mainstream students is important. Teachers need to understand the way Native American students are likely to perceive the world if they are seriously interested in improving the education of this group.