American Indian/Alaska Native Children and Families

In This Section

National PTA 125th Anniversary

Notes from the Backpack Podcast

Join PTA For Your Child

In Focus: American Indian/Alaska Native Children

  • Almost one-third of the American Indian population is under the age of 18.[1]

  • There are approximately 500,000 million American Indian students in the U.S. K–12 education system.[2]

  • The graduation rate from public high schools in 2014 was 67% for American Indian/Alaska Native students, compared to 80% for other racial/ethnic student populations; for American Indian/Alaska Native students in Bureau of Indian Affairs schools, the graduation rate in 2014 was 53%.[3]

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among American Indian/Alaska Native youth ages 18–24; this rate is higher than for any other ethnic/racial youth population. The suicide rate for young American Indian/Alaska Native men is twice the rate of other groups.[4]

Key Strategies for Inclusion

  • Understand the structure of federal-tribal relations. Federally recognized tribes hold sovereign nation status. Two major pieces of legislation embody the important concepts of tribal self-determination and self-governance: The Indian Self-determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975, as amended (25 U.S.C. 450 et seq.) and the Tribal Self-Governance Act of 1994 (25 U.S.C. 458aa et seq.).

  • Build relationships one family at a time. Recognize the diversity among American Indian/Alaska Native families:
    • When referring to American Indian/Alaska Native children and families, all of these terms are generally acceptable: American Indian, Indian, Native American or Native. However, many Native people prefer to refer to their specific tribal name: Navajo, Cherokee, Ute, etc.[5]
    • Like other cultural groups, there are many American Indians of mixed race. These children may struggle to identify with the Indian roots of one parent and the race of the other parent.
    • Some American Indian/Alaska Native youth hold membership in tribes. Others do not.
    • Not all American Indian/Alaska Native students have the same experience growing up, especially those removed from reservations for several generations.

  • Focus on removing the barriers standing between Native youth and their opportunity to succeed. Through new investments, partnerships and increased engagement, this focus takes a comprehensive, culturally appropriate approach to ensure that all Native students can reach their full potential. PTA units across all congresses should be aware of U.S. Department of Education Title VII programs and coordinators in their area. Title VII requires all school districts to help American Indian/Alaska Native students and families succeed.

  • Be sensitive to the impact of intergenerational trauma. Intergenerational trauma and grief continue to impact the educational success of Native youth, even in large urban communities. These concerns often manifest as significant rates of alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide, domestic violence, sexual violence and drop-out.

  • Respect cultural traditions. Native culture is a big part of the lives of many students and families, and a source of pride. Cultural education grounds students with traditional values and sets them on the path to success. Tips:
    • Go to pow-wows if you want to see whole family engagement. These are often pan-Indian events with representation from many tribes.
    • Go to Native American festivals, markets and urban center events to ask questions. Is there a nearby Native family center that PTA can join?
    • Consider inviting Indian artists to attend or drum to open an event with reverence. American Indian scholars, poets, writers and storytellers are rich resources for conferences and conventions.
    • Contact your state arts agency (there is one is every state and American territory) for funding to support activities with American Indian artists. The National Endowment for the Arts ( has contact information for each state.

Other Resources

  • National Museum of the American Indian is part of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. Their website is one of the most helpful sites for general information about American Indians and offers educational activities that PTAs can implement locally.

  • Alaska Federation of Natives seeks to promote the cultural, political and economic voice of the Alaska Native community.

  • The Alaska Native Heritage Center is a cultural center and museum in Anchorage offering educational resources.

  • First Alaskans Institute works to advance Alaska Natives through community engagement, information and research, collaboration and leadership development.

  • National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) lists tribal organizations, national organizations and all federally recognized tribes (including contact information for tribal leadership), searchable by geographic location.

  • National Indian Education Association offers rich information and resources for Indian education.

  • American Indian/Indigenous Education provides a collection of materials about history and current thinking about indigenous education, as well as an annual teacher education conference.

  • The Bureau of Indian Affairs offers a Parent Guidance Handbook to assist parents in advocating to enhance the quality of education and academic achievement of their children.

[1] U.S. Census 2008.

[2] National Center for Education Statistics, May 2016:

[3] Executive Office of the President. (2014). 2014 Native youth report. Retrieved from 

[4]U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for Health Statistics. (2015, September). Racial and gender disparities in suicide among young adults aged 18-24: United States 2009-2013. Retrieved from

[5] National Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C.