When tribal sovereignty challenges democracy: American Indian education and the democratic ideal

K. Tsianina Lomawaima, Teresa L. McCarty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

66 Scopus citations


The lessons of American Indian education - a grand experiment in standardization - can lead to a more equitable educational system for all U.S. citizens. While masquerading as a tool for equal opportunity, standardization has marginalized Native peoples. We argue for diversity - not standardization - as a foundational value for a just multicultural democracy, but diversity is feared by some as a threat to the nation's integrity. Critical historical analysis of the apparently contradictory policies and practices within American Indian education reveals a patterned response to cultural and linguistic diversity, as the federal government has attempted to distinguish "safe" from "dangerous" Native practices. Examples of the contest between Indigenous self-determination (rooted in internal sovereignty) and federal control illustrate the profound national ambivalence toward diversity but also the potential to nourish "places of difference" within a healthy democracy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)279-305
Number of pages27
JournalAmerican Educational Research Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2002



  • American Indian education
  • Critical democracy
  • Federal Indian policy
  • Multicultural education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education

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