ERIC Identifier: ED260869
Publication Date: 1984-09-00
Author: Tippeconnic, John W., III
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools Las Cruces NM.

Public School Administration on Indian Reservations.

Among the most challenging responsibilities in education are those of the school administrator on or near an Indian reservation. This digest will identify some of the problems and issues experienced by such administrators and suggest ways to deal with them.


As in any other location, the administrator of a reservation school is expected to be knowledgeable in all areas of school management. The reservation setting, however, along with community and tribal contact, can make expectations different from those for administrators in other areas.

Some reservation communities are small, making the administrator highly visible, a community leader who is never completely away from the job. Often the administrator lives in a school compound, interacting with the same people on and off the job. These communities are often isolated at great distances from major urban areas. Isolation can mean that the administrator may have difficulty in recruiting and hiring qualified teachers, counselors, and other professional staff. It is difficult for an administrator to provide staff development activities or degree programs when universities and resources are costly or logistically difficult to arrange.

Other reservation communities are larger or perhaps located near urban areas. This administrator faces the challenge of establishing and maintaining effective communication and meaningful contact with a community of which he is not an inhabitant. The danger of community rejection may be heightened under these circumstances.

The administrator is expected to know how the federal government impacts on all aspects of public education. It is especially important that the administrator understand the various federal policies, legislation, and programs that provide funding to Indian students.

Also, the administrator is expected to know tribal educational policy and practice and how it influences public school education. The administrator is then expected to blend federal government and tribal expectations with state requirements.

If the local community and tribe support bilingual and bicultural education, then one of the educational challenges of an administrator is to integrate the local tribal language and culture into the regular curriculum of the school. Relevant curriculum materials and teaching methods must be identified or developed.

The administrator often serves as the link between the school, the community, and the tribe. This role is especially difficult and delicate; it requires political as well as human relations skills. Conflict can be destructive. Resolving such conflict often demands decisions which are politically or culturally based and which may seem to be illogical.

Achieving effectiveness in school administration under these circumstances may depend on the background and ethnicity of the administrator. It can make a difference whether the individual is an Indian or non-Indian; if Indian, the administrator's tribal affiliation may affect his ability to perform successfully. Cultural factors and local expectations can make it difficult for a local person to be an effective administrator.


The major issues and problems facing public school administrators on the Indian reservations encompass educational standards, funding, public relations, staffing, and student attendance as well as a number of other areas.

Providing high-quality education while complying with state, federal and tribal standards becomes increasingly difficult under conditions of limited population that may be bilingual and bicultural. It is critical for the administrator to know how to integrate supplemental programs such as the Title IV Indian Education Act and the Title VII Bilingual Education Act into the regular school program. Reservation public schools are often faced wit high-cost items combined with limited local tax resources. Obtaining school construction monies is also especially difficult.

It is increasingly important to establish and sustain meaningful parent and community involvement. In addition, good personal contact is needed to understand student absenteeism and withdrawal or dropping out as well as the individual personal and family situations which affect the student's school life.

The administrator must pay special attention to recruiting and retaining quality staff members, particularly bilingual and bicultural teachers and counselors. Isolation, salary, housing, social life, educational opportunities for children, employment for spouse, and indifference to teaching Indian students often lead to high employee turnover. A related aspect is the need to make teachers, counselors, and other professional staff aware of the local language and culture through inservice training.


One way an administrator can address issues and problems is to follow a decision-making process that insures relevant information is identified and obtained. The effect of the local Indian culture and tribal government on education should be determined. Also, it is necessary to identify special educational needs of Indian students that may affect decisions in all areas.

Once information is obtained, it should be analyzed from educational, economic, political, and cultural perspectives. A brief explanation as to how and why the decision was arrived at often proves worthwhile and may avoid conflict.

Keep in mind that Indian people are sensitive to the policy of self-determination. An administrator may have to attend tribal community meetings or tribal council sessions to gather information or to address issues. Often it is helpful if the administrator is fluent in the tribal language.


Contact with special programs or individuals within the school district should be made. Often there are individuals who are knowledgeable about local tribal history as well as cultural, community history. Indian education staff are especially helpful in planning and implementing bilingual-bicultural education, in meeting Indian students' needs, and in understanding related federal programs. Members of the tribal council or an education department in the tribal government can be valuable sources of input into the school administrator's information bank.

Outside the school district and local community are other agencies and institutions which can help. The state department of education may have an Indian education component, unit, or resource person. Also, universities and colleges often have Indian studies programs, Indian education programs, bilingual-bicultural programs, or individual staff with knowledge and experience in Indian education.

The federal government itself is a resource, especially the BIA or programs administered by the Department of Education (ED) under the Title IV Indian Education Act or the Title VII Bilingual Education Act.

National organizations, like the Council for Exceptional Children or the National Education Association, have Indian components or Indian special interest groups. Many of these organizations have annual conferences or local meetings where special concerns are addressed. There are also state and national Indian organizations that promote Indian education. Many states have Indian education associations or groups addressing specific issues. The National Indian Education Association, National Advisory Council on Indian Education, National Indian Child Care Conference, and the American Indian Higher Education Consortium are examples of national organizations that can serve as resources for schools.

There are publications and other information sources that can provide research findings, descriptions of current practice, or history and cultural information, all related to the Indian reservation or setting. "The Journal of Indian Education" is published at Arizona State University, and materials from the presses at the University of Oklahoma and the University of New Mexico are also excellent sources of information.

The ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools at New Mexico State University and the Bilingual Clearinghouse in Rosslyn, Virginia are examples of data and information sources that provide current information on the practice of Indian education and bilingual education.

A sensitive commitment to the special needs of this educational environment, establishment of community/tribal rapport, and knowledge and application of information and guidance as well as funding resources will assist the public school administrator in meeting the needs of the Indian reservation he or she serves.


American Indian Policy Review Commission. REPORT ON INDIAN EDUCATION. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1976. ED 164 230.

Boloz, Sigmund A., and Carl G. Foster. "A Guide to Effective Leadership for the Reservation Administrator." JOURNAL OF AMERICAN INDIAN EDUCATION, January, 1980: 24-28.

Boloz, Sigmund A., and Judith Loganbill. DEVELOPING AN EFFECTIVE SCHOOL BUDGET IN THE RESERVATION SCHOOL: PPBS AND THE SCHOOL PHILOSOPHY. Ganado, AZ: Ganado Public Schools, 1983. ED 234 946.

California State Department of Education. AMERICAN INDIAN EDUCATION HANDBOOK. Sacramento, CA: California State Department of Education, 1982.

Deloria, Vine, Jr. LEGISLATIVE ANALYSIS OF THE FEDERAL ROLE IN INDIAN EDUCATION. Washington, DC: U.S. Office of Education, 1975.

Education Commission of the States. INDIAN EDUCATION: INVOLVEMENT OF FEDERAL, STATE AND TRIBAL GOVERNMENTS. Report No. 135. Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States, 1980.

Education Commission of the States. INDIAN EDUCATION: AN OVERVIEW OF STATE LAWS AND POLICIES. Report No. 139. Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States, 1980.

Fuchs, E., and R. J. Havighurst. TO LIVE ON THIS EARTH: AMERICAN INDIAN EDUCATION. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1972.

National Education Association. AMERICAN INDIAN/ALASKAN NATIVE EDUCATION: QUALITY IN THE CLASSROOM. Washington, DC: National Education Association, 1983.

Rosenfelt, D. M. "Toward a More Coherent Policy for Funding Indian Education." LAW AND CONTEMPORARY PROBLEMS (1976): 190-223.

Library Reference Search

Please note that this site is privately owned and is in no way related to any Federal agency or ERIC unit.  Further, this site is using a privately owned and located server. This is NOT a government sponsored or government sanctioned site. ERIC is a Service Mark of the U.S. Government. This site exists to provide the text of the public domain ERIC Documents previously produced by ERIC.  No new content will ever appear here that would in any way challenge the ERIC Service Mark of the U.S. Government.

Popular Pages

More Info