NABE News Indigenous Education Columns 1990-1992
© National Association for Bilingual Education

Return to NABE News List of Columns

1. American Indian Bilingual Education: Some History, 14(2), 5. 11/5/1990
2. Native American Languages Act Becomes Law, 14(3), 1, 8-9. 12/1/1990
3. Rock Point School Revisited, 14(4), 15-16. 2/1/91
4. New Zealand "Language Nests," 14(5), 17. 3/15/1991
5. European Parallels, 14(6), 7. 5/1/91
6. Language Survival, 14(8), 7. 8/1/91
7. Preventing Dropouts, 15(1), 5. 9/15/91
8. Whole Language (with M. Rickey), 15(2), 7. 11/1/91
9. Indian Nations at Risk Task Force Supports Bilingual Education, 15(4), 7 & 16. 4/1/92
10. The White House Conference on Indian Education & the Tribal College Movement, 15(7), 7 & 18. 7/1/1992
American Indian Bilingual Education--Some History
NABE News November 5, 1990, Vol. 14, No. 2
Jon Reyhner

While teaching a bilingual education class last Spring on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, I asked my students why Indian students were not doing well in school. After some discussion, they came to the agreement that it was because students were not interested in what schools had to offer. They, themselves, remembered staying in school because members of their extended families continually reminded them of the importance of education.

The observations of these Native American teachers and aides reminded me of the results of the comprehensive Navajo Dropout Study which found that the most common reason given by Navajo students for dropping out of school was boredom.1 Many Indian students today do not see the education they are receiving as being meaningful to their lives. The problem is not that they are failing to learn the "basics," but that they do not see the application of the things they learn in school to their lives outside of school. In fact, their education often demands that they cease to be Indian.

This lack of interest in what educators have to offer and lack of desire to assimilate into the dominant culture is not new. The missionary Stephen R. Riggs found teaching English to Sioux Indians in the 1830s "to be very difficult and not producing much apparent fruit." It was not that the students lacked ability that prevented them from learning English, but rather their unwillingness. However, "Teaching Dakota was a different thing. It was their own language."2

In 1870 Riggs' son, Alfred, started an extremely successful mission school in Santee, Nebraska, in which the elementary books and the Bible were in Dakota. After the children were taught to read in Dakota, they were given a book with illustration s explained in Dakota and English. Alfred Riggs found that children who learned to read and write Dakota could then master English easier and that a child whose instruction included a four year course in Dakota would be further advanced in English at the end than a child who received exclusive instruction in English.3

However, in an attempt to "Americanize the American Indian," government officials in Washington issued regulations in 1880 that "all instruction must be in English" in both mission and government schools. A Sioux teacher educated at Carlisle Indian School, Luther Standing Bear, found that the English-only education mandated by the government was inadequate. He felt,

The Indian children should have been taught how to translate the Sioux tongue into English properly; but the English teachers only taught them the English language, like a bunch of parrots. While they could read all the words placed before them, they did not know the proper use of them; their meaning was a puzzle.4 Government officials thought in the late nineteenth century that they could solve the "Indian problem" in a few years by forcefully taking Indian students from their parents and giving them an all English education. This policy of forced assimilation with English-only instruction did not accomplish the rapid assimilation that was confidently predicted at the time.

Recent actions by groups criticizing bilingual education and advocating making English an official language recall the failures of similar nineteenth century ethnocentric practices in Indian education. If their call for English-only instruction is heed ed, it can mean the continued alienation of a large number of Indian students from the Educational system. However, a new Indian Nations At Risk Task Force is currently gathering testimony on Indian education, and they have started with a number one guiding principle which includes the statement "Schools must join with American Indian/Alaska Native parents and leaders to affirm and restore the cultural heritage of indigenous peoples, through the teaching of Native cultures and languages." This recognition of the "Indian" part of Indian education gives hope for a promising "English plus" future for American Indian education.


1Platero Paperwork, Inc. (1986). Executive Summary: Navajo Area Student Dropout Study. Window Rock, AZ: Navajo Nation, Navajo Division of Education.

2Riggs, S. R. (1880). Mary and I: Forty Years with the Sioux. Chicago: W.G. Holmes. p. 38.

3Board of Indian Commissioners, United States Department of the Interior. (1880). Eleventh Annual Report of the Board of Indian Commissioners for 1879. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. pp. 77 & 98.

4Standing Bear, L. (1928). My People the Sioux, edited by E.A. Brininstool. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. p. 239.

Native American Languages Act Becomes Law
NABE News December 1, 1990, Vol. 14, No. 3
Jon Reyhner

On October 30, 1990, President Bush signed Public Law 101-477 reauthorizing the Tribally Controlled Community College Assistance Act. Title I of this law is the Native American Languages Act. In this act Congress finds that "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." Section 102 (6) of the act declares that there is "convincing evidence" that student achievement, community pride, and educational opportunity are "clearly and directly tied to respect for, and support of, the first language of the child."

The Act goes on to declare 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" and to "recognize 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." Section 105 of the act declares "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."

This act represents a continuation of the policy of Indian self-determination that has been effect over the last twenty years and is a reversal of the historical policy of the United States government to suppress Indian languages in Bureau of Indian Af fairs and other schools. Many older Indians today remember being punished for speaking their native languages in schools, and this Congressional affirmation of the rights of Indians to retain their native languages is long overdue. In the last few years tribal governments have been acting to protect and preserve their languages. One of the first of these was the Northern Ute Tribe whose Tribal Business Committee passed resolution 84-96 in 1984 declaring,

the Ute language is a living and vital language that has the ability to match any other in the world for expressiveness and beauty. Our language is capable of lexical expansion into modern conceptual fields such as the field of politics, economics, mathematics and science.

Be it known that the Ute language shall be recognized as our first language, and the English language will be recognized as our second language. We assert that our students are fully capable of developing fluency in our mother tongue and the foreign English language and we further assert that a higher level of Ute mastery results in higher levels of English skills. (Northern Ute, 1985, p. 16

The resolution also requires Ute language instruction preschool through twelfth grade, encourages "pre-service training in Ute language theory and methodology for teachers," and requires three credits of inservice training in Ute language for teachers within one year of employment (Northern Ute, 1985, pp. 16-18).

Another tribal language policy passed by the Pascua Yaqui Tribal Council in 1984 holds that "Our ancient language is the foundation of our cultural and spiritual heritage" and declares that "all aspects of the educational process shall reflect the beauty of our Yaqui language, culture and values" (Pascua, 1984, p. 1).

The following year, the Navajo Nation followed suit. Former Navajo Tribal Chairman Peterson Zah wrote in the preface to the 1985 Navajo Tribal Education Policies: "We believe that an excellent education can produce achievement in the basic academic skills and skills required by modern technology and still educate young Navajo citizens in their language, history, government and culture" (Navajo, 1985, p. vii). The policies go on to declare,

The Navajo language is an essential element of the life, culture and identity of the Navajo people. The Navajo Nation recognizes the importance of preserving and perpetuating that language to the survival of the Nation. Instruction in the Navajo language shall be made available for all grade levels in all schools serving the Navajo Nation. Navajo language instruction shall include to the greatest extent practicable, thinking, speaking, comprehension, reading and writing skills and study of the formal grammar of the language. (1985, p. 9) Courses in Navajo history and culture are also required.

In seeking to preserve their cultural heritage, tribes are not rejecting the importance of English language instruction for their children. Former NABE Western District Representative, Dick Littlebear saw "our native languages nurturing our spirits and hearts and the English language as sustenance for our bodies." (1990, p. 8). William Leap could find no tribe that had let native language restoration outrank the importance of teaching English (1982). The tribes are seeking to follow a bilingual "English Plus" philosophy which will preserve their heritages, but also will allow their children access to jobs in the White Man's world.

Many people helped get the Native American Languages Act through Congress. The officers and members of the Native American Language Issues (NALI) organization and the National Association for Bilingual Education are especially to be noted along with Senator Daniel Inouye, his legislative aide Lurline MacGregor, and the many Indian tribes and organizations who gave their support.


Leap, W.L. (1982). Roles for the linguist in Indian bilingual education. In R. St. Clair & W. Leap (Eds.), Language renewal among American Indian tribes: Issues, problems, and prospects (pp. 19-30). Rosslyn, VI: National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education.

Littlebear, D. (1990). Keynote address: Effective language education practices and native language survival. In J. Reyhner (Ed.), Effective language education practices and native language survival (pp. 1-8). Choctaw, OK: Native American Language Issues.

Navajo Division of Education. (1985). Navajo Nation: Educational policies. Window Rock, AZ: Navajo Division of Education.

Northern Ute Tribe. (1985). Ute language policy. Cultural Survival Quarterly, 9(2), 16-19.

Pascua Yaqui Tribal Council. (1984). Yaqui language policy for the Pascua Yaqui tribe: Policy declaration. Tucson, AZ: Tucson Unified School District.

Rock Point Community School Revisited
NABE News February 1, 1991, Vol. 14, No. 4.
Jon Reyhner

Eleven years ago Paul Rosier and Wayne Holm published a report titled The Rock Point Experience: A Longitudinal Study of a Navajo School on a successful Navajo-English maintenance bilingual program in Arizona. English-as-a-second-language (ESL) instruction was started at the Bureau of Indian Affairs' school at Rock Point in 1960 and bilingual instruction in 1967. Rosier and Holm's study showed bilingually instructed Rock Point students scored higher on English language tests in sixth grade than English-only instructed Navajo students in surrounding schools.

Whenever I read a report about a school like Rock Point, I always wonder if such a model program can be sustained, especially after the people who started the program move on to other things. In the case of Rock Point, I was able to observe their program first hand as the school's assistant director for academic programs during the 1988-89 school year [for a more complete description see Reyhner (1990)]. Wayne Holm had moved on to the Window Rock School District in 1986, and I was working for the school's second Navajo director, Jimmie C. Begay.

The first thing that impressed me about the school was that twenty-one teachers out of a teaching staff of fifty had worked ten years or more at Rock Point and only one non-Navajo teacher was employed in the elementary school. Except for the Indian con trolled public school at Rocky Boy, Montana, the other eight schools with a majority of Indian students I had worked in were characterized by many non-Indian teachers and high teacher turnover. Most of the Rock Point elementary school teachers were initially hired locally without college degrees, but an on-site training program led to many earning degrees.

At Rock Point, in grades K-3, different teachers teach the English and Navajo portions of the curriculum. Concepts introduced by the Navajo speaking teacher are reviewed by the English speaking teacher (usually a Navajo also). In kindergarten, two-thirds of the instruction is in Navajo with the rest of the time spent teaching students oral English. In grades one through three, half the instruction is in English and half in Navajo. In the upper grades about one-fourth of the instruction is in Navajo wit h the rest in English. By teaching content area subjects in the early grades in Navajo, Rock Point students are not held back in those subjects until they learn English. In the secondary school started in 1976, both 7th and 8th grade students have a full year of Navajo studies in Navajo plus a quarter of Navajo writing. In grades 9-12 students have a half year of Navajo studies in Navajo plus a quarter of Navajo writing each year.

Teachers at Rock Point have had to produce themselves much of the material they use to teach in Navajo. At present a Title VII (bilingual education) funded Junior Research Program (JRP) in the elementary school and a Title V (Indian education) funded Applied Literacy Program (ALP) in the secondary school develop literacy skills in Navajo and English. Students write for newspapers and booklets that then become reading material for other students. In ALP students take Navajo writing, English writing, computers, and performance. Each quarter, an award winning bilingual school newspaper is produced. Hands-on instructional approaches are used because they lend themselves to adaptation by teachers for Navajo language instruction more readily than exclusively textbook approaches.

In the Navajo social studies curriculum, in addition to teaching tribal history, geography, and government, time is spent on Navajo clanship where students learn how they are related to other Navajos and the duties they owe to their clan relatives. Thus, through the school's curriculum, community and family cohesiveness is reinforced.

Today, as gradually an increasing number of students come to school dominant in English, a two-way bilingual program is being developed. Older programmed approaches to reading and ESL are being gradually replaced. More Whole Language activities are being introduced in reading including emphasizing reading for pleasure in and out of school. Big Books in English have been introduced into first and second grade and students are read to on a daily basis. Classroom libraries have been established in grades K-6 and students participate in a variety of literacy activities including Sustained Silent Reading (SSR).

The 1987-88 school year California Test of Basic Skills (CTBS) test results show that Rock Point students continue to do as well as or better than other Chinle Agency students at almost all grade levels in reading, language arts, and math, while criterion referenced testing shows they continue to improve their Navajo language skills. In addition to test scores, the success of bilingual education at Rock Point is indicated by student attendance rates above 94% for the last eight years and parent conference attendance rates above 80%. Parent activities include quarterly parent-teacher conferences, a yearly general public meeting held in November, an eight-member elected parent advisory committee that formally observes the school several times a year, school sponsored cultural events, and community dinners (Rock Point, 1988).

In 1972, to provide "quality Navajo education through local community control," the community elected a school board to contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to operate the school so they could have more control over hiring and curriculum. Most of the credit for the continued success of Rock Point's educational program must go to the Navajo school board and staff who are working for their children.


Reyhner, J. (1990). A Description of the Rock Point Community School Bilingual Education Program. In Jon Reyhner (Ed.), Effective Language Education Practices and Native Language Survival (pp. 95-106). Choctaw, OK: Native American Language Issues.

Rock Point Community School. (1988). Internal Evaluation Report. Rock Point, AZ: Author.

Rosier, P., & Holm, W. (1980). Bilingual Education Series: 8; The Rock Point Experience: A Longitudinal Study of a Navajo School Program (Saad Naaki Bee Na'nitin). Washington DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.

New Zealand "Language Nests"
NABE News March 15, 1991, Vol. 14, No. 5.
Jon Reyhner

As reported in the last issue of the NABE NEWS in the article on the "NABE No-Cost Study on Families," there is a deep concern that an English language emphasis in early childhood education will separate language minority children from their parents. This separation leads to family breakdown (specifically parent-child communication problems) and identity problems for these students as they reach the trouble filled teenage years.

Historically American Indian children have been faced with an English-only education in their schools which has alienated them from their families and aggravated for them the national problem of drug and alcohol abuse. It is also contributory to the high dropout rate, twice the national average, that American Indian students have.

One promising solution to the problem of family identity loss being pioneered in New Zealand for the past decade by the Maoris, the original inhabitants of New Zealand, is the Kohanga Reo or language nest. Language nests are community based day care centers carried on in the Maori language and staffed with Maori elders. Language nests both preserve the Maori language which was dying out, provide a valuable service to working parents, and, most importantly, strengthen the cultural values associated with the traditional Maori extended family (Fleras, 1989).

With university help, language nests are also being successfully pioneered in Hawaii with native Hawaiian children. These programs link together elders and children, strengthen family values, and develop language skills. More consideration needs to be given to the strengths of the "language nest" approach in planning United States early childhood education programs. If we follow the advice of the U.S. Department of Education in its booklet, Schools That Work: Educating Disadvantaged Children, to teach language minority children English "as soon as possible," and by implication the culture that goes with the English language, we will further break down American Indian cultures and family structures. That breakdown has already had disastrous consequences for American Indians who, for example, die from alcohol related causes at a rate 4.3 times the national average.

American Indians have shown enormous grass roots support for the preservation of their Native languages in their lobbying for the recently passed Native American Languages Act. The fact that no money was attached to this act indicates the unselfish interest of American Indians in native language preservation. However, it leaves unanswered how the desire for Native language preservation will be realized. If community-based Native language early childhood programs can be established and linked to two-way or maintenance bilingual programs in public and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) schools, there is hope that American Indian families can be strengthened while English language skills are developed.

Unfortunately, beyond a few schools such as on the Hualapai Reservation in Arizona, their is little to give hope that American Indian communities and their languages will not continue to lose ground as reservations become less and less isolated from the dominant culture. Language nests were started in 1982 in New Zealand. By 1988 there were 521 of them with an enrollment of 8,000 children (Fleras, 1989). This Maori success story indicates that this model needs to be given more attention by American Indian educators as a possible way to help implement the spirit of the Native American Languages Act.


Fleras, Augie. (1989). Te Kohanga Reo: A Maori renewal program in New Zealand. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 16(2), 78-85.

European Parallels
NABE News May 1, 1991, Vol. 14, No. 6.
Jon Reyhner

When I first got into Indian education, I naively saw the American Indian situation as an indigenous minority population as unique, or at least unique to the Americas and colonized, "Third World" countries. However, if one looks at Europe, one finds indigenous minority populations that have managed to maintain unique cultural identities for over a thousand years despite the assimilationist assaults of dominant cultures.

I found Colin Baker's book Key Issues in Bilingualism and Bilingual Education (1988) especially enlightening on this subject. Baker, of Welsh heritage, gives special attention to bilingual education in Great Britain and Ireland and looks at the Irish, Gaelic, and Welsh ethnic groups on those islands. While I was familiar with accounts by American Indian students being punished in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries for speaking their native languages in school, I was not familiar with the "Welsh Not."

Welsh children speaking the language of their homes and families in school were required to wear a wooden halter, the "Welsh Not," around their neck. This halter was passed from child to child for speaking Welsh until the end of the day when "whoever w as wearing the halter was beaten" (p. 134). Despite continued suppression, Welsh language and culture have survived, parents continue to want their children to speak Welsh, and students in bilingual schools in Wales "tend to have superior examination performance" (pp. 162-163).

Baker draws a number of important conclusions from his review of research on bilingual education. One is that "one-way communication" through tribal radio stations and newspapers using the tribal language is not enough to promote native language use. Students need to participate in native language community activities. These could include scouting, church, and traditional cultural activities. Most importantly, he concludes that immersion education, whether it is to teach English or to restore a lost tribal language, needs to be voluntary.

In contrast to the Welsh experience with voluntary bilingual schools, after Irish independence, the Irish language was made compulsory in schools in some areas. Just as compulsory English did not wipe out the Irish desire for freedom, Baker concludes " compulsion in learning Irish following the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1921 did little to further the minority language cause" (p. 50). Both parents and teachers expressed growing doubts about the Irish Free State's "official language policy" from 1941 on. Since 1973, the research results on bilingual education in Ireland have partially reversed this negative attitude towards bilingual education.

Drawing from the Irish experience, American Indian tribal governments should be wary of tribal language requirements in schools without first establishing local parental support for such requirements. The grass-roots support for the American Indian Languages Act in the United States is matched by the grass-roots support of Celtic languages in Great Britain and Ireland, but that support does not necessarily translate into support for compulsory native language instruction.

The results of the latest U.S. Department of Education study of bilingual education programs show that native language use in schools does not hurt children (Ramirez, 1991). Such research tends to use test scores to determine success; if such research also focused on objectives such as strengthening American Indian families, there can be little doubt that bilingual programs utilizing and developing Native language fluency produce superior results. This is supported by the findings in the Department of Education study that parents were most satisfied with having their students learn both English and their home language and wanted their children to stay in bilingual programs longer (Ramirez, 1991).


Baker, Colin. (1988). Key Issues in Bilingualism and Bilingual Education. Philadelphia: Multilingual Matters.

Ramirez, David. (1991). Study Finds Native Language Instruction is a Plus. NABE NEWS, 14(5), 1, 20-22.

Language Survival
NABE News August 1, 1991, Vol. 14, No. 8.
Jon Reyhner

The preliminary results of the 1990 Census show 1,959,234 Americans identifying themselves as American Indians, Eskimos, or Aleuts (Johnson, 1991). This figure is a half million higher than the 1980 Census and more than double the figure of the 1970 Census.

American Indian population is rising rapidly after a disastrous decline from 1492 to about 1900 caused by European diseases and other negative effects of Columbus's "discovery." In the 1860s, President Grant's Peace Commission worried about the extinct ion of the "Vanishing American." To save the Indian, the government decided that the Indian must be assimilated into the dominant culture through education. However, better health care and a more tolerant attitude towards Indians, brought on by the end of the frontier, probably had more to do with the reversal of what Russell Thornton (1987) has called the "American Indian holocaust."

The question of American Indian survival has been answered by the continued increase in Indian populations since the turn of the century, but the question of the survival of American Indian languages and cultures has been less clearly answered. The 1980 Census reported that one-third of American Indians regularly speak another language. However, only one percent of American Indians do not speak English (Snipp, 1989).

Till recently, government policy makers and educators have led the assault on American Indian languages with students being punished for speaking their tribal languages. But the policy of Indian self-determination initiated by the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 has given tribal governments a stronger voice in determining the future of American Indians. Today, when Indian education is studied, tribal governments and Indian organizations demand to be involved. In 1988 there were sixty-five tribally operated elementary and secondary schools. In addition, twenty-two tribally controlled colleges also give voice to American Indian concerns today.

When former Secretary of Education Cavazos appointed the Indian Nations at Risk (INAR) Task Force on March 8, 1990, it included in its first guiding principle that,

Schools must join with American Indian/Alaska Native parents and leaders to affirm and restore the cultural heritage of indigenous peoples, through the teaching of Native cultures and languages. Unlike most previous white dominated studies of Indian education, the INAR Task Force had only one non-Indian member. The Task Force's interest in native languages has been complemented by the Native American Languages Act signed by President Bush on October 30, 1990, declaring 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." Now there is a White House Conference on Indian education scheduled for January 23 and 24, 1992, in Washington, D.C.

Despite the efforts of Rosalie Pedalino Porter (see the last two issues of NABE News) and others to convince American Indians and others that their native languages have no place in our schools, both educational research worldwide and local Indian community opinion are giving increased support to the importance of using Indian languages in schools. I hope legislators, other government leaders, and educators will heed the testimony that was gathered in hearings around the country and the research reviewed in the INAR Task Force's supplementary volume of commissioned papers. The final report of the Indian Nations and at Risk Task Force originally due out in May should be released in the next few months by the U.S. Department of Education.


Johnson, D. (1991, March 11). 1990 Census: National and state population counts for American Indians, Eskimos, and Aleuts. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census.

Snipp, M. C. (1989). American Indians: The first of this land. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Thornton, R. 1987). American Indian holocaust and survival: A population history since 1492. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma.

Preventing Dropouts
NABE News September 15, 1991, Vol. 15, No. 1.
Jon Reyhner

The National Center for Education Statistics (1989) reports that American Indian and Alaska Native students have a dropout rate of 35.5 percent or twice the national average; the highest dropout rate of any United States ethnic or racial group reported . However the census figures also showed wide variation among reservations as to how many American Indian teenagers were not in school. One New Mexico Pueblo had only 5.2 percent of those teenagers not getting a high school education while several small Nevada, Arizona, Washington, and California sites had no students graduating from high school (Bureau, 1985).

The American Indian dropout problem is not of recent origin. Only a small percentage of students attending the famous Carlisle Indian School in the nineteenth century actually graduated (Eastman, 1935). The Senate report, Indian Education: A National Tragedy--A National Challenge, (Special, 1969) also documented dropout rates for American Indians at twice the national average. That report helped lead to the passage of the Indian Education Act in 1972.

As reported by Fuchs and Havighurst from the National Study of Indian Education in the late 1960s, "Many Indian children live in homes and communities where the cultural expectations are different and discontinuous from the expectations held by school teachers and school authorities" (1972, p. 299). Many American Indian students are forced to choose between their Native heritage and schooling. If they choose their heritage, they can fall further and further behind and eventually be pushed out of school. If they choose school, they can suffer serious psychological problems resulting from the rejection of their homes and families which can lead to drug and alcohol abuse.

Two studies (Deyhle, 1989; Platero, 1986) of American Indian dropouts found that a traditional Indian orientation was not a handicap in regard to school success. The Navajo Dropout study found that "the most successful students were for the most part fluent Navajo/English bilinguals" (Platero, 1986, p. 6). Deyhle's study of Navajo and Ute students found that the bilingual Navajo students who dropped out expressed a more positive attitude towards school than monolingual English speaking Ute dropouts. The Ute students in her study, none of whom spoke Ute, had a 64% dropout rate. The Navajo rate in the same school district was less than half that. Lin (1990) found American Indian college students who had traditional orientations outperformed those with modern orientations. Acculturated students seemed to have a less secure sense of identity and a more ambivalent attitude towards education than students who had retained more of their tribal culture, including their tribal language.

Research indicates a number of factors associated with higher student dropout rates. Factors that are particularly critical for American Indian students include large schools, uncaring teachers, passive teaching methods, irrelevant curriculum, inappropriate testing, tracked classes, and lack of parent involvement (see Reyhner, in press).

The recent dropout studies by Platero and Deyhle give support to the cultural discontinuity theory of Spindler (1987), that minority students fail in schools because the schools are too culturally different from the students' homes. Lessening the differences between home and school through bilingual/bicultural education can lower the high dropout rates of American Indian and other minority students.


Bureau of the Census, U.S. Department of Commerce. (1985). American Indians, Eskimos, and Aleuts on identified reservations and in historic areas of Oklahoma (excluding urbanized areas): 1980 census of population (Volume 2, Subject Reports) (PC80-2-1D, Part 1). Washington, DC: Author.

Deyhle, D. (1989). Pushouts and Pullouts: Navajo and Ute School Leavers. Journal of Navajo Education, 6(2), 36-51.

Eastman, E.G. (1935). Pratt: The Red Man's Moses. Norman: University of Oklahoma.

Fuchs, E., & Havighurst, R.J. (1972). To live on this earth: American Indian Education. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Lin, R-L. (1990). Perceptions of family background and personal characteristics among Indian college students. Journal of American Indian Education, 29(3), 19-28.

National Center for Education Statistics. (1989). Analysis report: Dropout rates in the United States: 1988 (NCES 89-609). Washington, DC: Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education.

Platero Paperwork, Inc. (1986). Executive summary: Navajo area student dropout study. Window Rock, AZ: Navajo Division of Education, The Navajo Nation.

Reyhner, J. (In Press). Strategies for preventing dropouts. In G. M. Charleston (Ed.), Indian nations at risk: Solutions for the 1990s (Supplement Volume). Washington, DC: Indian Nations at Risk Task Force, United States Department of Education.

Special Subcommittee on Indian Education, Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, United States Senate. (1969). Indian education: A national tragedy -- A national challenge. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.

Spindler, G. D. (1987). Why have minority groups in North America been disadvantage in their schools? In G. D. Spindler (Ed.). Education and cultural process: Anthropological Approaches (pp. 160-172). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland.

Whole Language
NABE News November 1, 1991, Vol. 15, No. 2.
Jon Reyhner and Melissa J. Rickey

Whole Language is a popular new trend in reading and language arts instruction. Some aspects of the Whole Language movement can be traced back to the Progressive Education practices of the 1930s and others to the Language Experience movement of the 196 0s. Instead of teaching reading, writing, speaking, and listening as separate skills, teachers integrate these language processes through thematic teaching units. In addition, rather than using traditional basal reading texts, teachers use children's literature--fiction and nonfiction--and other "realia," newspapers, magazines, and so forth to facilitate both reading development and conceptual learning.

While some writers suggest using Whole Language in Indian education, they often fail to emphasize the potential this approach has for providing true bilingual/bicultural Indian Education: it releases teachers and students from commercial English language textbooks which have little American Indian content and provides opportunities for incorporating tribal languages and cultural content into the curriculum.

With Whole Language, teachers of American Indian students go beyond having their students read standard textbooks for information. Instead, students can interview, in their native language, tribal elders, elected officials, and others and write their own texts. This interviewing and reporting process can produce social studies curriculum material about the community and, at the same time, develop students' speaking and writing skills in tribal languages and/or English. It can also produce local version s of traditional stories for students to read.

Whole Language teachers can also add children's literature by and about American Indians to their curriculum. Even more important, they can incorporate native language instruction through language experience stories and various student writing activities. Such instruction leads naturally to integrating content areas into holistic and meaningful units of study.

An example of this kind of teaching and learning occurred last year in one middle school on the Wind River Reservation of Wyoming. Here teachers developed a unit on the Iditarod sled dog race in Alaska. Students followed the race in the sports section of a local newspaper. They read Jean Craighead George's Julie of the Wolves, a novel about an Eskimo girl's survival in the Arctic tundra. In math, the students charted the distances contestants covered each day, and in science, they studied the geography and climate of Alaska.

T. L. McCarty of the University of Arizona observed a similar thematic unit in a classroom on the Navajo Reservation. The students read Scott O'Dell's historical novel, Sing Down the Moon, about the Navajos. Students responded to the book in journals and then were asked what more they wanted to do to learn about the historical period in which the book was set. Some students chose to interview, in Navajo, elders about the "Long Walk of the Navajos" and compiled a local history of the event. Other s researched colonization and why people got into wars. Another group rewrote pertinent passages in their history texts to represent the Navajo point of view.

Thematic units like the ones described above provide students real reasons for putting their reading, math, and other language and academic skills to work: they learn about the interesting world they live in and explore their relationship to it in active and participatory ways. The possibilities for developing similar units are limited only by students' interests and teachers' willingness to participate in and facilitate their students' learning.

Elementary teachers who want to know more about Whole Language can read Gail Heald-Taylor's little book, Whole Language Strategies for ESL Students, published by Dormac in 1986. While this book only talks about the development of English language skills, the activities suggested can also be done in the child's home language to develop literacy in the first language. Secondary teachers can find a lot of ideas to develop students' language skills in James D. Williams and Grace Capizzi Snipper's Literacy and Bilingualism, published by Longman in 1990.

Indian Nations at Risk Task Force Supports Bilingual Education
NABE News April 1, 1992, Vol. 15, No. 4.
Jon Reyhner

On December 3, 1991, Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander officially released the final report of the Indian Nations at Risk Task Force. Chartered by former Secretary of Education Lauro Cavazos on March 8, 1990, the INAR Task Force gathered testimony at seven regional public hearings and at the annual conference of the National Indian Education Association, made 30 school site visits, and commissioned 21 papers from national experts on American Indian/Alaska Native education on subjects such as current conditions, funding, dropout prevention, curriculum, and so forth.

The Task Force in their Final Report gave strong support for bilingual/bicultural Indian education. The second of the ten goals for Indian education set by the Task Force states that "by the year 2000 all schools will offer Native students the opportunity to maintain and develop their tribal languages and will create a multicultural environment that enhances the many cultures represented in the school."

In the Final Report's transmittal letter, the Task Force's co-chairs, former Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell and former Alaska Commissioner of Education William G. Demmert, Jr., wrote:

The Task Force believes that a well-educated American Indian and Alaska Native citizenry and a renewal of the language and culture base of the American Native community will strengthen self-determination and economic well-being and will allow the Native community to contribute to building a stronger nation--an America that can compete with other nations and contribute to the world's economies and cultures. (INAR, p. iv) The fourteen member Task Force included one school superintendent, two representatives from state education agencies, three representatives of Indian organizations including a former president of the National Indian Education Association, two representatives from Indian colleges, and four tribal leaders including three present or former tribal chairpersons. Only two Task Force members were non-Indians, including the Task Force co-chair Terrel H. Bell.

Based on their work and President Bush's six National Education Goals, the Task Force established ten goals for Indian education. The added goals include the previously mentioned goal of maintaining native languages and cultures (goal 2), high-quality Native and non-Native school personnel (goal 6), restructuring schools (goal 9), and parental, community, and tribal partnerships (goal 10).

The Task Force (pp. iv & 1) identified four reasons that Indian Nations are at risk:

  1. "Schools have failed to educate large numbers of Indian students and adults" as indicated by "high dropout rates and negative attitudes toward school;"
  2. "Schools have discouraged the used of Native languages" with the result that "the language and culture base of the American Native are rapidly eroding.";
  3. "The diminished lands and natural resources of the American Native are constantly under siege;" and
  4. "Indian self-determination and governance rights are challenged by the changing policies of the administration, Congress, and the justice system."
The Task Force reported that during the 1989-90 school year 39,791 Native students (10% of the total) were attending 166 Bureau of Indian Affairs funded schools, 9,743 (3%) were attending private schools, and 333, 494 (87%) were attending public schools (INAR, p. 3). Testimony gathered at the Task Force hearings indicates that many of these Native students attend schools with "an unfriendly school climate that fails to promote appropriate academic, social, cultural, and spiritual development among many Native students." Schools also had a Euro-centric curriculum, low teacher expectations, "a lack of Native educators as role models," and "overt and subtle racism." These factors contributed to Native students having the highest high school dropout rate (36%) of any minority group in the United States (INAR, p. 7-8).

On the brighter side, in its review of research and good practice, the Task Force found that "bilingual and multilingual children have a greater opportunity to develop their analytical and conceptual skills than monolingual children" and that "if a Native language is to be retained for use and continued development, it must be used in the home and reinforced in the schools" (pp. 14-15). Additionally, the Task Force found "teachers from Native communities in which they serve communicate more effectively, often in subtle ways, with Native students than non-Native teachers new to the communities" (p. 15) and "schools that respect and support a student's language and culture are significantly more successful in educating those students" (p. 16). In the process of gathering information,

The Task Force learned that there is a direct relationship between students' understanding of their culture and role in society and their ability to function comfortably in society and to achieve academic success. When students' relationships with the larger society are strained, their chances for academic success appear to diminish. . . .

Often schools have failed to make clear to students the connection between what they learn in school and what they must know to live comfortably and contribute to society. (INAR, p. 20)

The Task Force recommended "establishing the promotion of students' tribal language and culture as a responsibility of the school" and "training of Native teachers to increase the number of Indian educators and other professionals" (p. 22). Furthermore, they recommended that school officials and educators "integrate the contemporary, historical, and cultural perspectives of American Indians" and "give education a multicultural focus to eliminate racism and promote understanding among all races" (p. 24).

State governments were encouraged to "allocate specific funding for schools serving Native children to develop and use linguistically, culturally, and developmentally appropriate curricula" (p. 26), and the federal government was asked to "seek legislation to authorize the establishment of a national research and school improvement center for Native education" (p. 29). In addition, colleges and universities needed to "encourage scholarly work on curricula and textbook development that incorporates Native perspectives" (p. 31). To solve the problems that Indian people face, the Task Force particularly recommended,

support for new early childhood education and parent training programs, support for teacher education and other professional training for larger numbers of American Indian students and adults, support for Indian community colleges, and the development of new and exemplary education projects designed to carry out school improvement recommendations to meet the unique cultural and academic needs of Native students. (INAR, p. v) In their appendix, the Task Force included descriptions of exemplary tribal colleges, state initiatives, and bilingual schools.

All in all, the Indian Nations at Risk Task Force's Final Report gives strong support for the need for linguistically and culturally appropriate education for American Indian and Alaska Native students. Copies of the Task Force's Final Report and the commissioned papers can be obtained by writing the Indian Nations at Risk Task Force, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20202 (Phone 202 401-0590). The report and papers will also be made available through the Educational Resources Information Clearinghouse (ERIC) Documents system.


Indian Nations at Risk (INAR) Task Force. (1991, October). Indian Nations at Risk: An Educational Strategy for Action (Final Report of the Indian Nations at Risk Task Force). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education.

The White House Conference on Indian Education and the Tribal College Movement
NABE News July 1, 1992, Vol. 15, No. 7
Jon Reyhner

On January 22, 23, and 24, 1992 the White House Conference on Indian Education took place in Washington, D.C. It was authorized by Public Law 100-297 to "explore the feasibility of establishing an independent Board of Indian Education that would assume responsibility for all existing federal programs relating to the education of Indians" and "to develop recommendations for the improvement of educational programs relevant to the needs of Indians." The President, the Speaker of the House of Representative, an d the President Pro Tempore of the Senate each selected one-third of the 234 conference delegates from all over the United States to discuss ways to improve Native education. The vast majority of the conference delegates were American Indians and Alaska Natives.

In the months before the conference there were preconferences held across the nation in states with large Native populations discussing issues such as should there be a national board of Indian education, should there be a national Indian university, a nd what should be the national goals for Indian education. Much of the discussion at these preconferences echoed the concerns expressed at the hearings held by the U.S. Secretary of Education's Indian Nations at Risk Task Force in 1990 and 1991. They built on the four national priorities that the Task Force set:

  1. Developing parent-based and culturally, linguistically, and developmentally appropriate early childhood education,
  2. Making the promotion of students' tribal language and culture a responsibility of the school,
  3. Training more Native teachers, and
  4. Strengthening tribal and Bureau of Indian Affairs colleges.

The Washington State preconference concluded that a national board of Indian education would have little power and just add more bureaucracy to inhibit tribal self-government. They concluded that Indian education should have a "holistic approach focusing on all segments of Native communities and all aspect s of being human (emotional, physical, spiritual, and intellectual)." Montana conferees called for flexibility to meet the diverse needs of tribal people and called for the training of more Indian teachers, counselors, and administrators. They also felt a national board of Indian education would hurt local control and expand bureaucracy and "white tape." However, Kansas's preconference report called for "a national certification procedure" for Indian teachers." Montana called for an emphasis on schools "to promote holistic education with the total community as their constituents," and found that education "is highly suspect among many Indian people. They sense the dichotomy between being educated, and being taught that to be Indian is not all right." The need for better funding of Native education was a common theme across the nation. Strong support was also shown in the preconferences for preserving and promoting native languages.

Building on the work of the state preconferences, the White House Conference delegates adopted 113 resolutions covering a variety of topics ranging from the governance of Indian education to safe, alcohol/drug free schools, building on the work of both the Effective Schools Movement and the Indian Nations at Risk Task Force. Adopted resolutions 7-1 through 7-4 called on the president and congress "to strengthen and increase support for the language and culture of American Indians and Alaska Natives."

The White House Conference on Indian Education did not support a National Board of Indian Education, partly out of fear of centralized control of what are very diverse tribes and schools. The jury is still out on a National Indian University; tribal colleges fear losing already scarce resources to support such an institution. But at the same time, tribal colleges are moving to become more than just community colleges. Sinte Gleska College became Sinte Gleska University this year. In South Dakota, Sinte Gleska and Oglala Lakota College already have four year teacher preparation programs, and Sinte Gleska had already graduated 43 certified teachers. The previous year Sinte Gleska graduated 9 students with Master's degrees in education (Bordeaux, 1991). Both Navajo Community College in Arizona and Haskell Indian Junior College in Kansas are in the advanced stages of developing teacher education programs.

Unlike white college graduates, research indicates that Native college graduates from traditional public schools have had unsuccessful K-12 school experiences. A recent Montana study shows that their high school teachers did not encourage them to go to college, most had low grade point averages, and they heard little or nothing positive about Natives in their classrooms (Davis, 1992). Tribal Colleges and organizations such as the American Indian Science and Engineering Society are going into high school s and demonstrating to students that American Indians can be successful in our technological society--and of course keep their culture in the process.

The White House Conference on Indian Education is the latest phase in the current policy of Indian self-determination that President Nixon enunciated a little over twenty years ago. Nixon was recognizing Native aspirations for self-government that led to the founding of Rough Rock Demonstration School in 1966, the first Native controlled school in modern times, and Navajo Community College (NCC) in 1969, the first tribal college. The self-determination policy was operationalized in regard to education with the passage of the Indian Education Act in 1972 and the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act in 1975. In the face of subsequent changes in administration, budget cuts, and doubts about the place of minorities in the United States, this policy of self-determination has survived. United States Indian reservations have shared the neglect that her inner cities have received, but tribes have maintained an uphill struggle to take control of their own education.

Despite seriously inadequate funding, there are now 22 tribally controlled community colleges and 74 schools operated by Indian tribes and tribal organizations under grants or contracts with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (Office of Indian Education Programs, 1991). According to the dean of tribal college presidents, Lionel Bordeaux, "cultural preservation is really the foundation of the tribal colleges" (1991, p. 12). Tribal colleges and Native controlled schools have not completely turned around Native education, but they have certainly moved in the direction of Indianizing Indian education.

Tribal colleges today are serving student who never would have had a chance to go on to college. They are retrieving students who have gone off to college and fallen flat on their face. Not only are they teaching students, they are in the vanguard of improving the quality of life on their reservations. A two year study of tribal colleges by the Carnegie Foundation concluded, "the idea of Indian-controlled colleges offers great hope to the Native American community and the nation as a whole" (Boyer, 198 9, p. 87).


Bordeaux, L. (1991). Higher education from the tribal college perspective. In D. LaCounte & P. Weasel Head (Eds.), Opening the Montana Pipeline: American Indian higher education in the nineties (pp. 11-18). Sacramento, CA: Tribal College Press.

Boyer, Paul. (1989). Tribal colleges: Shaping the future of native America. Princeton, NJ: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Davis, J. (1992). Factors contributing to the post-secondary achievement of American Indians. Unpublished master's thesis, Eastern Montana College, Billings, MT.

Office of Indian Education Programs, Bureau of Indian Affairs. (1991). Education Directory. Washington, D.C.: Author.

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