American Indian Education KnowledgeBase

The American Indian Education KnowledgeBase is an online resource to aid education professionals in their efforts to serve American Indian students and close the achievement gap American Indian students have faced in public, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and other schools.

Task 2: Learn about the Indian New Deal of the 1930s


Guideline: Educators will know how the 1928 Meriam Report led to a change in the U.S. Government's Indian education policy, starting with the Indian New Deal in the 1930s and the passage of the Indian Reorganization and Johnson O'Malley Acts in 1934.

Overview: The Indian Bureau's success in assimilating American Indians into American "civilization" was increasingly criticized in the 1920s, and the 1928 Meriam Report confirmed those criticisms. With the change in administration brought on by the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt as president, the Bureau's leading critic, John Collier, was put in charge of the Bureau in 1933. He remained Commissioner of Indian Affairs until 1945--the longest serving Commissioner in U.S. history.

In 1920, John Collier observed the Taos Pueblo Red Deer Dance. He found in the dance a power for living which, "If our modern world should be able to recapture... the earth's natural resources and web of life would not be irrevocably wasted within the twentieth century which is the prospect now. True democracy, founded in neighborhoods and reaching over the world, would become the realized heaven on earth.... [Modern society has] lost that passion and reverence for human personality and for the web of life and the earth which the American Indians have tended as a central sacred fire." Collier thought, "Assimilation, not into our culture but into modern life, and preservation and intensification of heritage are not hostile choices, excluding one another, but are interdependent through and through.... It is the ancient tribal, village, communal organization which must conquer the modern world."

Under Collier's leadership, Congress passed the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, which gave tribes more self-governance, and the Johnson O'Malley Act, which provided funding to public schools to educate American Indian students. In 1936, Willard Beatty, President of the Progressive Education Association, became the Bureau's Education Director. Beatty, who served until 1952, promoted more culturally sensitive policies and educational methods in Indian schools. The revised 1938 introduction to the Civil Service Examination for positions in the Indian School Service highlighted the importance of giving "students an understanding and appreciation of their tribal lore, art, music, and community organization." In his memoirs, Collier noted he and Beatty "intended that school life become bilingual, and that the schools should serve adult and child alike."

Early Reform Efforts

The early Indian reform efforts were pushed by John Collier of the American Indian Defense Association. This resource summarizes those efforts and their results.


Perspectives on the Indian Reorganization Act

From History Matters, this resource offers links to three differing views on the impact of Indian Reorganization Act. The interviews are available in printed and audio form.


The 1930s

This resource from the American Indian Education Foundation summarizes the focus on native culture and the development of the Indian division of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Element 1: Foundations and Current Status of American Indian Education

Purpose: To ensure educators working with American Indian students are aware of past efforts at improving the academic achievement of these students, the limited success of these efforts, and current federally funded Indian education programs

Educators will:

  1. Understand past efforts to assimilate Indians through English-only assimilationist schooling and the opposition Indians may show to efforts at forced assimilation.
  2. Know the lasting effects of the Indian New Deal of the 1930s on American Indian education.
  3. Understand the effects of the Indian Self-Determination and Civil Rights movements on American Indian education.
  4. Understand the relationship between Indian tribes, states, and the federal government's Bureau of Indian Education.

Activity 1: Understand the History of American Indian Education

Activity 2: Understand the Current Status of American Indian Education

Element 2: American Indian Cultures

Purpose: Educators will understand the great cultural diversity among American Indians, as well as some of their commonalities. Educators will understand:
  1. What makes someone an American Indian, and what is a tribe 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: Be Aware of Tribal and Family Structures

Activity 2: Understand American Indian Traditional Tribal Values

Element 3: Understanding Your School and Community

Purpose: Assessing American Indian students' academic performance and working with local tribes and other Indian organizations are necessary to develop culturally responsive teaching methods. Educators should:
  • Examine current American Indian student test scores, attendance rates, and dropout rates;
  • Work with tribes and community organizations; and
  • Work with national American Indian organizations and the National Indian Education Association.

Activity 1: Take a Snapshot of Your School and Community

Activity 2: Work With and Involve Community and Parents

Element 4: Use Culturally Responsive Teaching Methodologies

Purpose: Some research suggests one reason for the achievement gap faced by American Indian students is cultural conflicts between American Indian homes and schools. Accordingly, culturally responsive teaching methodologies should address:
  • American Indian learning styles;
  • Indianizing curriculum;
  • Ethnomathematics and ethnoscience;
  • American Indian charter and magnet schools; and
  • Language revitalization.

Activity 1: Helping American Indian Children to Learn

Activity 2: Integrate American Indian History and Culture into School Curriculum

Activity 3: The Role of American Indian Charter and Magnet Schools

Activity 4: Teaching Indigenous Languages