The American Indian Education KnowledgeBase

Task 3: Understand the Impact of the Indian Self-Determination and Civil Rights Movements on Indian Education


Guideline: Educators will learn about the Indian Education Act of 1972 (the current version of which is Title VII of the No Child Left Behind Act), the Indian Self-Determination and Educational Assistance Act of 1975, and The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, which intend to help re-establish tribal authority over the education of American Indian children.

Overview: After World War II, there was a conservative rejection of Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier's policies and a return to the previous assimilationist polices. Where Collier had sought to strengthen tribal self-government, Congress in the 1950s sought to terminate Indian reservations and end any special status for American Indians.

However, new leadership in the National Congress of American Indians and other organizations fought termination, and in 1970, President Richard Nixon declared in a special message to the U.S. Congress:

"The story of the Indian in America is something more than the record of the white man's frequent aggression, broken agreements, intermittent remorse and prolonged failure. It is a record also of endurance, of survival, of adaptation and creativity in the face of overwhelming obstacles. It is a record of enormous contributions to this country--to its art and culture, to its strength and spirit, to its sense of history and its sense of purpose."

"It is long past time that the Indian policies of the Federal government began to recognize and build upon the capacities and insights of the Indian people. Both as a matter of justice and as a matter of enlightened social policy, we must begin to act on the basis of what the Indians themselves have long been telling us. The time has come to break decisively with the past and to create the conditions for a new era in which the Indian future is determined by Indian acts and Indian decisions."

Along with this rejection of termination came two new studies of Indian education that echoed the findings of the Meriam Report. In their 1972 book, To Live on This Earth, Estelle Fuchs and Robert J. Havighurst summarized the results of a national study of Indian education. They wrote, "With minor exceptions the history of Indian education had been primarily the transmission of white American education, little altered, to the Indian child as a one-way process. The institution of the school is one that was imposed by and controlled by the non-Indian society, its pedagogy and curriculum little changed for the Indian children, its goals primarily aimed at removing the child from his aboriginal culture and assimilating him into the dominant white culture. Whether coercive or persuasive, this assimilationist goal of schooling has been minimally effective with Indian children, as indicated by their record of absenteeism, retardation, and high dropout rates."

The second study published in 1969 by the Special Senate Subcommittee on Indian Education was titled Indian Education: A National Tragedy--a National Challenge. This study found most American Indian students and parents approved of their schools, but American Indian community leaders were "overwhelmingly in favor of the school doing something to help Indian students learn about their tribal culture." The most common parental suggestion was "schools should pay more attention to the Indian heritage."

This renewed criticism of American Indian education led to the passage of the Indian Education Act of 1972 and the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975. These acts provided funding for special programs for American Indian students and for more American Indian control of Indian education.

Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968

The resource provides the text of the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968.


Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975

Title 25: Chapter 14: Subchapter II of the US Code of Federal Regulations addresses Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance. This resource provides those regulations.

Indian Education Act of 1972

This article from the Journal of Indian Education offers an overview of the Indian Education Act of 1972. The passage of this Act was a major milestone in the history of Indian education.


Schooling for Self-Determination: Research on the Effects of Including Native Language and Culture in the Schools

This Digest briefly reviews the educational effects of assimilationist schooling and later efforts to create schools supportive of American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) self-determination.


Termination and Relocation

After World War II there was a conservative rejection of Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier's policies and return to Assimilationist polices. Where Collier had sought to strengthen tribal self-government, Congress in the 1950s sought to terminate Indian reservations and end any special status for American Indians. This resource reviews this period of termination and relocation.

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