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 4: Understand the American Indian Perspective on Gifted and Talented Education

Guideline: The number of educational programs and practices for gifted and talented American Indian students is increasing. As public education in the United States begins to diversify its efforts to meet the needs of all gifted students, educators are becoming more aware that "giftedness" can apply to all students, regardless of their racial background, ethnic heritage, or socio-economic status. The emergence of gifted and talented education practices for American Indians is patterned after the general trend in U.S. education. However, there are unique aspects that clearly define the special needs regarding gifts and talents of American Indians. Educators of American Indian students need to understand how their students' gifts and talents are manifested in a variety of ways and influenced by the tribal cultures from which they come.

*NEW* Identifying and Teaching Gifted Native American Students

This January 2009 Education Week Teacher article written by Tamara Fisher, who is a  K-12 Gifted Education Specialist for a school district located on an Indian Reservation. explores the identification of Native American Gifted and Talented students.  Fisher writes, "It is first important to note that the term 'Native American' (or, if you prefer, “American Indian”) does not refer to one distinct culture or people. More than 500 different tribes are recognized in the U.S., each with its own unique culture, traditions, and language. For every characteristic or strategy that may apply to the gifted youth of one tribe, the opposite could be true for the gifted youth of another tribe."  Fisher states that the strategies and characteristics mentioned here are general ones; and strongly recommends that readers view this information through the lens of what they already know about the culture and traditions of the Indian children with whom they work. To best reach the gifted Indian youth in our schools, it is imperative that teachers and gifted specialists become aware of their tribal culture and traditions because these cultures and traditions can greatly influence how a student expresses and utilizes his or her gifts and talents.

*NEW* American Indian Gifted and Talented Students: Their Problems and Proposed Solutions

This 1991 JSTOR journal article offers the viewpoint of gifted and talented American Indian students via the author, Rockey Robbins, who spent 21 days with over 125 American Indian gifted and talented students on the Oklahoma City University campus as part of a summer residential enrichment program.

Gifted and Talanted American Indian and Alaskan Native Students

This paper by Stuart Tonemah notes that American Indian Tribes have a critical need for effective leadership, which can be found in the brightest of their youth.  However, the focus of federal and state programs has been to provide remedial education.  Historically, Native students at federal boarding schools did not perform at high levels due to low teacher expectations, little opportunity and peer pressure.  Conformity to mainstream norms is still a problem for Native students, who still struggle at being Native and gifted, as well as with poverty, isolation, and the usual identity problems with adolescence. The Native community must be involved with designing, implementing and evaluating educational programs.  More Native teachers are needed to teach this student population, to conduct training for educators and parents, and to encourage parent involvement in gifted programs.  This paper contains over 100 references.

National Association for Gifted Children

As noted at its website, "The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) is an organization of parents, teachers, educators, other professionals, and community leaders who unite to address the unique needs of children and youth with demonstrated gifts and talents as well as those children who may be able to develop their talent potential with appropriate educational experiences."

Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG)

As noted at its website, "SENG brings attention to the unique emotional needs of gifted children. It provides adults with guidance, information, resources, and a forum to communicate about raising and educating gifted children."

*NEW* Gifted Native American Students -- Overlooked and Underserved

This paper represents a major initiative in May of 2011 at the 2nd leadership summit in Ganado, Arizona to develop a national research agenda focused on gifted/creative/talented Native American students, as this population is one of the least researched, most overlooked, and most underserved in this field.  This process of reviewing and revision of assumptions were used two more times by teachers at Standing Rock and Red Lake reservations in South Dakota and Minnesota, respectively. 

*NEW* Increasing Native American Indian Involvement in Gifted Programs in Rural Schools

Native American Indian students are not identified or served at the same rate as their majority counterparts. Javits Grants are part of a small federal program providing funding for direct service research and demonstration projects. The purpose of the grants is to resolve the problems in identifying and meeting the needs of underrepresented gifted populations. Herein is a description of Project LEAP, which was designed to identify and meet the needs of rural high school students who have gifts, talents, or high potential over a three-year study.

*NEW* Gifted Native American Students: Literature, Lessons, and Future Directions

A national research agenda focused on gifted/creative/talented Native American students is needed, as this population remains one of the least researched, most overlooked, and most underserved in the field. Literature-based assumptions surrounding Native American students’ talent development, culture and traditions, cognitive styles and learning preferences, and communication were generated and then reviewed by educators and tribal members for relevance and accurace. This article has three purposes. The first is to analyze the literature-based assumptions concerning gifted education in three Native American communities—Diné, Lakota, and Ojibwe. The second is to call on gifted education researchers to include Native American students in their research. The third is to suggest a research agenda based on data gathered within these communities.

*NEW* Identifying Gifted and Talented American Indian Students: An Overview. ERIC Digest.

Gifted and talented youngsters exist within any racial group or cultural setting. In this country, however, the processes and instruments for identifying gifted American Indians are little suited to the task. Giftedness is often defined by tests which reflect Euro-American middle-class standards, with virtually no attention to expectations and values of American Indian culture. However, identification of gifted and talented Indians can be achieved if educators define a broader perspective than that currently used and asks the questions: Who are the Gifted and Talented? How Are the Gifted Identified? What Roles Will the School and Community play in this Identification?

*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* Many Native American Students Don't Learn About Their Languages and Cultures in School

This May 2019 Education Weekly article by Corey Mitchell explores a new report that delves into the K-12 experiences of American Indian and Alaska Native students found that roughly half of them have never been exposed to their native languages in school or at home.  The paper, which explores findings from the National Indian Education Study—a report that comes out every four years—found that students in schools with a larger share of American Indian and Alaska Native students were more likely to be exposed to native languages than were their peers in schools with fewer native students.

American Indians: Gifted, Talented, Creative, or Forgotten?

This 2010 Roper Review Journal entry offers an article by Roberta R. Daniels which states American Indians comprise one of the most diverse minority groups, speak over 200 languages, and have limited representation in programs for the gifted. Flexibility must be evidenced in programming for gifted American Indians when considering characteristics such as: cooperative, (rather than competitive), infinite view of time, and legend valued over scientific explanations. Exemplary programs for gifted American Indians must rely on instruments that assess skills other than verbal performance. The Native American Indians’ needs, values, and tribal history are reflected in programming options presented in this document.