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.

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

Task 3: Be Familiar with the Structure of Tribes, Clans, Bands, and Extended Families


Guideline: American Indians have been identified in a number of ways. While "tribe" has been the most historically common label applied by "outsiders," there are other forms of communal organization used by American Indians. Educators of native students should be aware of these forms of communal organization.

Overview: American Indian groups can be divided in a number of ways. Historically, the most common division applied was the tribe. A tribe was an indigenous group that shared a common language, common beliefs, and who saw themselves as sharing a common heritage. In their own language, they oftern named themselves "the people." Today, many tribes call themselves nations because they fit the basic definition of a nation. The term "First Nations" is used commonly to refer to the various indigenous groups living in Canada, and some tribal governments in the United States, e.g, the Navajos, have voted to refer to themselves as nations.

Most American Indian tribes or nations have internal subdivisions. One of the most common is the clan, which consists of members who are related to each other theoretically or actually. Most tribes are matriarchal, where a child is "born into" one's mother's clan. However, the Omaha, Mesquakie, Fox, Ojibwa, Yumans, and Pimans are patriarchal, tracing their clan ancestry through their fathers. Typically, one cannot marry a person of the same clan, and sometimes, one cannot marry a person of either parent's clan. In some tribes, clans own property, perform ceremonies, and control political offices. Some tribes have only a few clans, while others may have fifty or more. Members of the same clan are expected to show hospitality to fellow clan members. Tribes that farmed were more likely to have clans than tribes that depended on hunting and gathering.

Sometimes, tribes were also divided into bands and other smaller groups that tended to live and travel together. The term "tribe" often has connotations of being a primitive grouping, but just as indigenous languages can be very sophisticated and complex, so can the social systems of tribes. Some tribes can be very similar to other tribes, speaking dialects of the same language and practicing similar customs. However, they can also be very different from each other with their languages as different as Chinese is from English, and their customs as different as well.

The smallest American Indian groupings are extended families. Many modern American families are "nuclear families" consisting of a mother and/or father and their children, with other relatives such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins sometimes living hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away and having little contact with each other. In contrast, many American Indian families are "extended families," where grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins often live nearby and are in constant contact with each other. All members of the extended family may help with child rearing. In some tribes, uncles have an important role in disciplining their nieces and nephews. In some tribes, an aunt is addressed with the same term of "mother" as a child's biological mother. Educators working with extended families need to know that grandparents, uncles, and aunts may play an important role in their students' lives.

Definition - Extended Family

This link is to a definition of extended family from Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a multilingual, web-based, free content encyclopedia project. Wikipedia is written collaboratively by volunteers from all around the world. As such, content should be verified with other sources.


How Clans Came to Be

This story conveys the Creek legend of how clans came to be. It explains the origins of the Creek clans and how they were to be structured.


How Elders Are Helping Younger Generations Face Challenges

This wikipedia reference offers reflections on the role of the elders in the American Indian communities. It gives suggestions on how the Elders' knowledge and experience can be blended into the education of younger American Indians.


Understanding the Relational Worldview in Indian Families

This resource offers an overview of how Indian families view the world. This view encompasses four areas addressing context, mind, spirit and body. Though authored for Indian child welfare workers the article provides a useful perspective for classroom teachers towards appreciating the perspective Indian families possess.

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