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

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

Task 1: Be Aware of U.S. American Indian Language Policy


Guideline: Through most of the history of the United States, American Indian students were discouraged from speaking their native language in schools and even punished for speaking them. This assimilationist educational policy was changed in 1990 when President George H.W. Bush signed the Native American Languages Act (Title I of Public Law 101-477). In this act, Congress said "the status of the cultures and languages of Native Americans is unique and the United States has the responsibility to act together with Native Americans to ensure the survival of these unique cultures and languages." Congress made it the policy of the United States to "preserve, protect, and promote the rights and freedom of Native Americans to use, practice, and develop Native American languages." The act also recognized the "right of Indian tribes and other Native American governing bodies to use the Native American languages as a medium of instruction in all schools funded by the Secretary of the Interior." Furthermore, the act declared "the right of Native Americans to express themselves through the use of Native American languages shall not be restricted in any public proceeding, including publicly supported education programs."

The Native American Languages Act has three important implications. First, it is a continuation of the policy of American Indian self-determination that has been in effect for the last thirty years. Second, it is a reversal of the historic policy of the United States government to suppress American Indian languages in Bureau of Indian Affairs and other schools. Third, it is a reaction to attempts to make English the official language of the United States. In 2006, Congress voted to authorize more funding for language revitalization with the passage of the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act.

Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act of 2006

The Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act of 2006 amends the Native American Programs Act of 1974 to authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services, as part of the Native American languages grant program, to make three-year grants for educational Native American language nests, survival schools, and restoration programs.


Native American Languages Act of 1990

This link is to the Native American Languages Act of 1990.

American Indian Language Policy and School Success

Authored by Dr. Jon Reyhner, Northern Arizona University, this article discusses the link between students' academic success and their retention of their native language and culture.