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.

Task 2: Be Aware of Students' Need for Cultural and/or Tribal Identity

Guideline: Each student brings to the classroom a personal identity based on his or her family's native origins and cultural characteristics. These factors could impact the student's performance in the classroom and interactions with others. Educators should be aware of American Indian students' potential need for group identity and its impact on students' learning.

In the White Man's Image (Video & Quiz)

This website summarized, "As settlers colonized the United States, they intruded on the culture and the land of Native Americans. Any anger or hostile behavior was regarded as proof of inferiority or savagery on the part of the American Indian.  The only way to remove this savage behavior was to recreate the native population in the white man's image."  'In the White Man's Image' video, set in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1875, reflects upon the ambitious experiment: to teach Native Americans to become imitations of white men. With the blessing of Congress, the first school for Indians was established in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, to continue this "civilizing" mission. Quiz/Flash Cards/Study Guide/Lesson Plan 

Knowing Who You Are - A Casey Family Programs Curriculum

Casey Family Programs’ mission is to provide and improve — and ultimately prevent the need for — foster care.  Casey Family Programs is partnering across America to support the safety and success of children and families.  Click Here for Available Resources and KWYA Curriculum in Alaska Schools.

Alaska Standards for Culturally Responsive Schools

The following standards have been developed by Alaska Native educators to provide a way for schools and communities to examine to the extent of to which they are attending to the educational and cultural well being of the students in their care. These "cultural standards" are predicated on the belief that a firm grounding in the heritage language and culture indigenous to a particular place is a fundamental prerequisite for the development of culturally-healthy students and communities associated with that place, and thus is an essential agreement for identifying the appropriate qualities and practices associated with culturally-responsive educators, curriculum, and schools.

Know Your Rights - for Indigenous Adolescents

In this publication you will learn about an important international document called the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).  The Declaration explains how the rights of indigenous peoples – including indigenous young people – are to be protected by governments around the world. UNDRIP applies to indigenous peoples as individuals and as a group. Indigenous young people were actively involved in the development of UNDRIP, and they are working hard to make sure governments implement it. This source provides a summary of some of the important language, themes and articles of the document, so that young people can continue to play an important role in ensuring the Declaration is fully implemented around the world.

American Indian/Alaska Native College Dropout: Recommendations for Increasing Retention and Graduation

This 2015 working paper from the Centers of Educational Innovation and Social Studies at Washington University offers recommendations for increasing retention and graduation rates for American Indian and Alaskan Native student who currently have the highest dropout rate compared to any other student group.

Identity, Schooling, and Success

A perspective written by Dr. Jon Reyhner of Northern Arizona University, that appeared in the NABE News, March/April 2002. In this column, he offers thoughts on the importance of helping students build a strong positive identity as well as developing their academic knowledge and skills.

Land Issues

This link to the Indian Land Tenure Foundation website provides information on Indian land issues.

Native American Indian Genealogy

This link to Access Genealogy provides such Native American records as tribal histories, final rolls, census, and an extensive collection of online books.

Running Strong for Native American Youth: Traditions and Culture

Running Strong helps strengthen American Indian communities across the nation. With a focus on serving American Indian youth, they tackle complex challenges that stem from years of oppression and poverty.  Running Strong's program involvement reaches far and wide. With Running Strong's longstanding partnerships in Indian Country, they work to create sustainable change in Native communities. Running Strong's focus areas include safe housing, basic needs, culture and language preservation, emergency assistance programs, organic gardens and food, schools and youth centers, women’s health, and seasonal programs.

The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition

This National Native American Boarding School Health Coalition website states, "The truth about the United States Indian boarding school policy has largely been written out of the history books. There were nearly 500 government-funded, church-run Indian Boarding schools across the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries. Indian children were forcibly abducted by government agents, sent to schools hundreds of miles away, and beaten, starved, or otherwise abused when they spoke their native languages.  The social, emotional, spiritual, and cultural devastation from boarding school experiences have passed down to Native American individuals, families, communities and Tribal Nations today."

Alabama Teacher Nurtures Native American Students

This 2016 ED Week video displays how Nicole Williams came back home to Calcedeaver Elementary School in rural Alabama to teach Native American culture, language, dance, and history in a community with a large Choctaw Indian population, mentoring many students through high school.

America's Great Indian Nations (VIDEO)

This 2013 documentary published by Questar Entertainment is the first comprehensive history of six great Indian nations, dramatically filmed on location at their native tribal lands across America, using reenactments, archival footage, maps and original music. The story of the Iroquois, Seminole, Shawnee, Navajo, Cheyenne, and Lakota Sioux Nations unfold in their struggle to protect their lands, cultures, and freedoms.

American Indians Confront "Savage Anxieties" (VIDEO)

As part of the $585 billion defense bill for 2015, Congress passed a measure that would give lands sacred to American Indians in Arizona to a foreign company. In this 2014 PBS video interview, Bill Moyer speaks with Robert A. Williams Jr., a professor specializing in American Indian law, about how such deals are a part of American Indian's tragic history of dispossession.

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."

Children of the Plains (VIDEO)

This 2011 video, by ABC's Diane Sawyer, explores the lives of several American Indian children growing up in Pine Ridge Reservation.

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.

Inside an Apache Rite of Passage Into Womanhood (Video)

For the Mescalero Apache Tribe, girls are not recognized as women until they have undergone the "Sunrise Ceremony", an ancient, coming-of-age ceremony that lasts for four days. VICE was granted rare access to the ceremony for Julene Geronimo, the great, great grand-daughter of renowned Apache leader, Geronimo. VICE followed Julene through each day of her arduous rite-of-passage in order to better understand what womanhood means for the Apache tribe, and how these ceremonies play a significant role in preserving a way of life that almost became extinct.

Knowing Who You Are: KWYA Video

In "this 24-minute video, 23 individuals (youth in care, foster care alumni, child welfare professionals, birth families, and resource families) share their perspectives about why race and ethnicity matter and the importance of integrating racial and ethnic identity into child welfare practice." While its focus is on the foster care system, the issues, perceptions and emotions explored are relevant to native American children and teens being aware of their identity. This program was developed by Casey Family Programs, "a Seattle-based national operating foundation that has served children, youth, and families in the child welfare system since 1966."  In partnership with Casey Family Programs, National CASA offers Knowing Who You Are to our network of CASA staff and volunteer advocates.   Knowing Who you Are: A State and Tribal Partnership in Alaska

Lakota in America (Video)

In this 2017 Four Square video, "Lakota in America" is the third film in Square's For Every Kind of Dream series featuring Genevieve Iron Lightning.  Genevieve is a young Lakota dancer on the Cheyenne River Reservation, one of the poorest communities in the United States. Unemployment, addiction, alcoholism, and suicide are all challenges for Lakota on the reservation. For nearly a hundred years, it was illegal to practice Lakota customs. Now, the Cheyenne River Youth Project is working with young people like Genevieve to create a stronger economic and cultural future, they’re using their Lakota heritage to get there.

Native Youth Are More Than Statistics (Video)

In this 2016 TEDx video, Elyssa (Sierra) Concha, who is Lakota, Ojibwa, Taos Pueblo, and a Education graduate of Black Hills State University, walks us through the most commonly told statistics that often are used to define Native American communities.  She also describes her personal experiences that bring the statistics to life. Through her open and honest storytelling, Elyssa shares a message for Native Youth and shares the world that is full of hope and promise for the future generations.



The Apache 8

This 2011 documentary features the all-women wild land firefighting crew from the White Mountain Apache Tribe, who has been fighting fires on the Reservation and throughout the United States for more than 30 years. With humor and tenderness, four extraordinary women from different generations of the Apache 8 crew share their personal stories.  The film also has an Educational Guide and a Viewer Discussion Guide for lesson plans.

True Whispers: The Story of Navajo Code Talkers (Video)

Debuted in 2002, TRUE WHISPERS tells the moving and personal story of the World War II Navajo Code Talkers. Recruited as teenagers from harsh government and mission schools where they were forbidden to use their native language, they served as U.S. Marines from 1942-1945 utilizing that very language to transmit vital coded messages that were key to the U.S. victory in the Pacific. The wartime contributions of these Native Americans went unrecognized for over fifty years and this documentary, uniquely positioned from their point of view including cultural, personal and intimate moments, provides part of the long overdue tribute they deserve. "True Whispers" is directed and written by Valerie Red-Horse Mohl and produced by Gale Anne Hurd and Valerie Red-Horse Mohl in association with ITVS, with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Urban Rez (VIDEO)

In 2013, Rocky Mountain PBS presented "Urban Rez," a nationally distributed documentary exploring the lasting legacy and modern-day effects of the Voluntary Relocation Program and policies that encouraged American Indians to leave their homelands and relocate to urban areas across the country from 1952 to 1973.  Additional videos include: the BIA, Spirituality, Language Loss, Education, Culture, Community vs Individual, and Boarding Schools.

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.

We Are Still Here: A Documentary on Today's Young Native Americans (Video & Lesson Plan)

This short 2012 documentary touches on these topics and tells the story of the three unique young Native Americans from Minnesota. Also explored, 'What are today's young Native Americans' life like? What are the challenges they are facing? How the historical traumas influenced their life?' Lesson Plan

What It Means To Be A Navajo Woman (Video)

In this 2010 TEDx video, Jolyana Bitsuie shares her journey becoming Miss Navajo Nation in 2001-2002. As a young girl, Jolyana remembers moving away from the Navajo culture during her formative years as a high school student in Phoenix, Arizona. Two days after winning Miss Navajo Nation, the tragedy of September 11th occurred. Tribal leaders asked Jolyana to bring encouragement and pride to the United States from the Navajo Nation.  So, she spent the next year representing the Navajo Nation across the United States. As Miss Navajo, Jolyana shared how she was the representation of her mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers, and communicated the importance of knowing who you are as an individual. Today, Jolyana teaches urban Navajos to keep their language alive, and be proud of their roots, in order to ensure the survival of Navajo language and culture.

White Man's Way - Genoa Indian School U.S. (1884 - 1934) [VIDEO]

This July 10, 1986, PBS video features the Genoa Indian School in Genoa, Nebraska which opened in Pawnee Indian Country in 1884.  Former Genoa students, teachers and administrators are interviewed in this video offering first-account stories, both good and bad, on what life was like at Genoa Indian School.  Further, the video asks the question, What is in store for future Native American Indian generations?  The answer includes the restoration of Native Indian culture, history in addition to outer world lessons at Haskell Junior College in Lawrence, Kansas; and language at the UMO 'N HA TA'PASKA School.

Cultural Considerations for Teaching American Indian Students

This 2017 University of Montana undergraduate thesis paper focuses on how teachers of American Indian students should prepare to become successful in their goals of engaging productively with their Native American students.

The Native American kids Who Received $200,000 for Graduating

This 2015 video featiures the Ho-Chunk Nation, which is a Native American tribe that owns a string of casinos across Wisconsin.  Ho-Chunk children get a share of casino profits once they've graduated and turned 18. It's called their 18 Money. When they finish high school, they get given $200,000 (£130,000). Journalist and film-maker Jenny Kleeman meets the Ho-Chunk kids of Black River Falls high school and their families as they graduate, along with tribal representatives and residents of Black River Falls, Wisconsin, to understand 18 Money and its impact.

*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.

*NEW* Ways of Learning: Teachers’ Perspectives on American Indian Learning Styles

This 1996 Tribal College article by Thomas Peacock reflects the results of this study of nearly 60 teachers of American Indian students were similar with one major exception. Most spoke of the dangers of over-generalizing the findings of limited studies to entire tribal nations. These teachers learned that teachers should adapt their instruction to meet the unique learning styles of all their students. 

*NEW* What Every Teacher Needs to Know to Teach Native American Students

This 2009 article by Hani Morgan advises teachers of Native American Students against the dangers of stereotyping, Native American misconceptions, realizing that Native American students have a different learning style and values towards humility and harmony.


Buffalo Nation: The Children Are Crying

This 2015 Buffalo Nation video focuses on the devastation in which the children of the Lakota Sioux Nation are forced to live. The children are filled with despair and as a result, and they are committing suicide at an alarming rate. 

Life on the Reservation (Part 1)

This 2007 video follows the daily life on an Indian Reservation of two young Native Americans, Danielle White and Anthony Hare.

Native American Oral Storytelling & History (Video)

This 2015 video is explains how vital Native American Oral Storytelling and History are to Native American culture and future. Through this initiative we share the history of our people in their voice, as seen through their eyes. We focus on everyday lives of Choctaws through pivotal moments in history, exploring topics such as the Civil Rights movement, boarding school initiatives, and relocation efforts. We gather oral accounts of what it was like to be Native American through these times, from the stories that make us unique as a people to the everyday activities that universally bind all of us to one another. We use technology to preserve and share our unique story and wisdom that has come from these encounters.

RACING the PAST : Voices from the Apache Rez Youth

This 2015 video features young Apaches from the San Carlos Reservation in central Arizona share their inspirations, challenges, and longing for peace in this documentary short. Made with love with/by/for the Apache people!

Rezball: Basketball in Lakota Nation

This 2017 VICE video features how through years of federal neglect and in the midst of a cultural awakening, one sport has endured on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation: basketball.

The Natives: This is Our America

This 2017 video documentary examines what life is like for young people on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota -- in the heart of the Dakota Access Pipeline project, and the protests that have been taking place there.

UNITY: United National Indian Tribal Youth

UNITY's Mission (United National Indian Tribal Youth) is to foster the spiritual, mental, physical, and social development of American Indian and Alaska Native youth and to help build a strong, unified, and self- reliant Native America through greater youth involvement.  Another of UNITY's goals is to promote "unity" within individual families and tribes, and also among American Indian tribes and other peoples. There is a vast diversity of cultures, languages and histories among the more than 550 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Native villages and the many urban Indian organizations that are located across the country.

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.