A U of I program propels Native Americans into classrooms and redefines what a teacher looks like

When Shawna Campbell-Daniels was in college at Washington State University, she was shocked by her peers’ ignorance when it came to Native American people like herself.

They would ask questions like: “Do you still live in teepees?” or, “Is there running water on the reservation?”

Others would try to guess her ethnicity. Was she Hispanic? Asian? Hawaiian? They rarely guessed Native American.

Shawna Campbell-Daniels, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Idaho and program director for IKEEP. Photo: uidaho.edu

It made her feel invisible, and over time, she realized that education is “not designed to serve Native communities.”

Campbell-Daniels, a Coeur d’Alene tribal member, grew up on the Coeur d’Alene reservation. She attended public schools there, where she said her education did not prepare her for college.

When she returned to her hometown as an adult, she saw the public schools failing her son, too. As part of the fourth-grade Idaho history curriculum — which, for some Idaho students, is the bulk of the education they receive on Native Americans — her son’s teacher provided handouts on faraway tribes that contained erroneous, negative information.

It was a lost opportunity, Campbell-Daniels thought. Why not learn about the local tribes and connect to students’ identities and backgrounds? But it was worse than that — it was harmful. 

“I thought about my son being in that class and hearing that type of narrative about who he is and how that would make him feel as the only (Native American) in the classroom, and it really just broke my heart,” she said. “And that is something that I think fundamentally needs changed in education.”

An essential part of that is getting more Native American teachers in the classroom, which is exactly what Campbell-Daniels is working on.  

Campbell-Daniels is a postdoctoral fellow and project director for the University of Idaho’s Indigenous Knowledge for Effective Educator Program, or IKEEP. The program “prepares and certifies culturally responsive Indigenous teachers to meet the unique needs of Native American students in K-12 schools.” 

Now in its seventh year, the program has sparked a 400 to 500% increase in American Indian and Alaskan Native enrollment in the university’s teacher preparation programs, according to Vanessa Anthony-Stevens, a professor at U of I and IKEEP’s principal investigator.

Our story “is about changing the conditions of education so that Native children, too, can thrive in the institutions that we call schools and beyond.” — Vanessa Anthony-Stevens, principal investigator, IKEEP

The IKEEP program was built to address “the near invisibility of Indigenous teachers in the workforce,” Anthony-Stevens told trustees at a February State Board of Education meeting. 

Most Native American students in Idaho attend public schools, and even in schools with high Indigenous populations, “we see very, very few Native teachers in front of classrooms.”

In Idaho, only 56 of the state’s 17,594 teachers (or 0.3%) are Native American. Comparatively, there are 3,146 Native American students out of 312,000 statewide (or 1%).

The program also aims to address “the urgent, urgent, urgent disparities that are experienced by our Native youth in K-12 schools. These are starkly demonstrated in all the assessment data that we have available right now in the state of Idaho.”

But from those dire starting points, Anthony-Stevens sees a brighter future. 

“Our story begins with these recognitions, but is a story about changing the conditions of education so that Native children, too, can thrive in the institutions that we call schools and beyond.”

IKEEP shepherds a new generation of teachers into schools, defying stereotypes of who is and can be a teacher

The IKEEP program recruits Native Americans from across the country to enter its program and become teachers. Some stay in Idaho, others come from out of state and return to their communities. 

Since its inception in 2016, IKEEP has graduated three cohorts of new teachers. The third was the largest, with 11 students representing nine tribes from six different states. 

IKEEP supports its teachers through their first two years in the classroom with mentoring, feedback sessions, meetings and seminars, and more. Campbell-Daniels says those continuing services are essential.

“It can be really hard, especially in those first years,” she said. “There’s a whole slew of things that Native teachers have to maneuver once they are practicing teachers in a school district. There’s often not a system of support set up for them, and it can be very lonely … And they might be the only Native teacher.”

Chrystyna Hernandez is one of the IKEEP graduates, and she now teaches at Owyhee Combined School on the Duck Valley Reservation, where nearly 100% of the students are Native American. Hernandez is a member of the Shoshone-Paiute tribes. 

At a February State Board meeting, she said the program was a “truly, truly meaningful education that honors me as a student and modeled how to honor my students in my community.”

Nicholas Eldredge, a fourth-grade teacher at the Coeur d’Alene Tribal School, is another IKEEP alumnus and a descendant of the Salish-Kootenai tribes.  

He ties culture into his classroom when possible, like raising native fish to eventually be released in a nearby creek.

Nicholas Eldredge, a fourth-grade teacher at Coeur d’Alene Tribal School, stands near fish that his class will raise and release. Eldredge is a graduate of the University of Idaho’s IKEEP program.

Eldredge grew up in Post Falls and “very outside of Native cultures.” The program helped connect him to his identity, and now he’s giving students something he never had: a Native American teacher. 

 But even at his tribally run school with a 100% Native American population, there are only two Indigenous teachers. 

Coeur d’Alene Tribal School Principal Tina Strong passes out papers to students. She teaches in the afternoons because of a teacher shortage. The school is located on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation and is overseen by the Bureau of Indian Education.
Students listen as Principal Tina Strong provides instructions.

Anthony-Stevens said that lack of Native American teachers, especially on reservations, is “one of the most glaring, telling impacts of colonization.”

“The lack of representation in the classroom is not an accidental occurrence,” she said. 

It was borne of “some very intentional choices” when the federal government selected who would oversee boarding schools, which Anthony-Stevens compared to an “incarceration of Indigenous youth.” And oftentimes, those teachers were white, Christian women. 

Systems like that established “what type of person gets to be a teacher and what type of knowledge you need to be a teacher.” And even today, the image of a typical teacher has not changed much. That makes it harder for Native Americans to aspire to enter education.

“When you don’t see any teachers who look like you or who are from your community, or maybe you’ve had hostile experiences with teachers, it’s very hard to envision yourself wanting to be in that role,” Anthony-Stevens said. 

But getting more Native American teachers in the classroom stands to benefit more than just minority populations. 

All kids need Native American teachers, all teachers need cultural competence

Native teachers can provide all students with a more complete history of their country, Anthony-Stevens said. The realities they can share are “quite different than the kinds of textbook realities that we’ve been peddling for a while.”

Vanessa Anthony-Stevens, associate professor of cultural and social studies at the University of Idaho and the principal investigator for IKEEP. Photo: uidaho.edu

And diverse teachers are good for the country as a whole.

“Indigenous teacher education … is an investment in tribal nation building,” Anthony-Stevens told State Board members in February. “Strong nations support the health and wellbeing of strong citizens, who in turn contribute to the diverse needs of our democracy.”

And IKEEP does more than prepare Native American teachers. It also offers an online professional development course on Idaho’s five tribes for current teachers, and the course will soon be available to teachers-to-be. The course was created in conjunction with the State Department of Education. 

Anthony-Stevens said she would love to see school districts have small groups of teachers sign up to take the class together and organize a study group around it. “We haven’t had anyone take us up on that yet, but we hope that they will.”

All teachers — not just Native American teachers — need to come to the classroom equipped with knowledge about Idaho’s five tribes. 

“Teachers need to come into the classroom conscious that there are multiple perspectives on who we are as Idahoans … and be inclusive of the full history of Idaho and the ways in which we receive that information differently,” Anthony-Stevens said. 

An impressive program — that’s underfunded

The IKEEP program is making crucial headway on two goals established by the state: to increase the number of Native American teachers and to increase Native American knowledge among educators and educators in training.

State Superintendent Debbie Critchfield

In a February board meeting, IKEEP staff presented information on the program to trustees — including State Superintendent Debbie Critchfield, who seemed impressed. 

Critchfield said she had recently visited with Chief Allan, chairman of the Coeur d’Alene tribe. The No. 1 concern he had was finding and retaining teachers. While that’s been a statewide concern, Critchfield said the conversation helped her better understand the unique needs of tribes. 

“They want teachers that look like the members of their community, and that is very important,” she said. 

State Board President Linda Clark expressed interest in expanding the IKEEP program to all Idaho universities and colleges. A program designed to increase Hispanic educators is needed as well, she said. 

“What resources would it take for us to begin to replicate this program in other parts of the state?” she asked. 

And that question struck at the heart of the matter. 

“Plans to expand are always things that we people are envisioning,” Anthony-Stevens told EdNews. “But how we expand and with what support we expand is something that’s really important to have as part of the dialogue.”

She said she’s been at meetings like February’s her whole career. People are impressed and inspired by the work IKEEP is doing. 

“And you know what they do after? Nothing,” she said. “Is the state giving any dollars to IKEEP? Zero.” 

The IKEEP program is primarily funded by grants, though Anthony-Stevens acknowledged that her salary is paid by taxpayers. 

“It is mind-blowing to me, the ways in which our state and other states absolutely fail to invest in Indian education,” she said. “(Because) we know that if there’s resources, things will change.” 

Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report. This story is part of a series that was made possible with a generous grant from the Education Writers Association.


Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro reports from her hometown of Pocatello. Prior to joining EdNews, she taught English at Century High and was a reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. She has won state and regional journalism awards, and her work has appeared in newspapers throughout the West. Flandro has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and Spanish from the University of Montana, and a master’s degree in English from Idaho State University. You can email her at [email protected] or call or text her at (208) 317-4287.

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Still Here | Tribes fight to be seen in Idaho classrooms

About this series

Reporter Carly Flandro set out to answer this question: What most helps Native American students succeed?

She logged more than a thousand miles to visit four of Idaho’s five reservations from the Kootenai Reservation (near the Canadian border) to the Fort Hall reservation (adjacent to her hometown of Pocatello). Carly talked with tribal officials, school leaders, teachers and students.

Two answers emerged:

  1. Students need more Native American teachers in the classroom ...
  2. And more Native American perspectives and voices in the curriculum.

This series takes a look at the people and organizations who are cultivating those two ingredients for student success. At stake: elevating students who are too often overlooked and ensuring they have equitable access to bright futures.

These stories were supported with a generous grant from the Education Writers Association.

Here’s the reporting by the numbers:

Miles traveled: 1,265
Reservations visited: Fort Hall, Coeur d’Alene, Nez Perce, Kootenai
Schools visited: 9
Classrooms visited: 11


Shoshone-Bannock (Newe)

Get to know the tribes: 

  • Their own bison herd: The tribes own a bison herd of about 500, keeping alive a connection to an animal with great cultural and historical significance.
  • Bareback horse racing: Every year, the tribes host an “Indian Relay racing” event to honor a sport that originated with the Shoshone-Bannock people; it involves a rider making three laps around a racetrack, jumping bareback onto a new horse each time. Three other team members keep horses calm, catch the incoming horse, and prepare the next horse for the rider.
  • Cultural event of the year: The relay races are just one part of the annual Shoshone Bannock Indian Festival, which also includes dancing, drumming, parades, traditional games, an art show, a rodeo, bull riding, and a buffalo and salmon feast.
  • Visit the Shoshone-Bannock tribes’ website for more information.

Local schools, by the numbers:

  • Shoshone-Bannock Jr./Sr. High: About 150 Native American students attend this 6-12 grade school, which is one of two Idaho schools run by tribal governments. It is located on the Fort Hall Reservation.
  • Chief Tahgee Elementary Academy: 126 students (all of whom are Native American) attend this K-7 charter school located on the Fort Hall Reservation. The school focuses on Shoshoni language and cultural immersion.
  • Blackfoot school district: According to the State Department of Education, 394 Native American students attend these schools, making up about 10% of the district’s student population. The district's records show it has 600-650 Native American students, comprising about 16% of the population. 
  • Pocatello-Chubbuck school district: According to the SDE, 420 Native American students attend these schools, making up about 3.5% of the district’s student population. The district's records show it has 846 Native American students, comprising about 7% of the population. 

Nez Perce

Nez Perce (Nimiipuu)

Get to know the tribe:

  • Chief Joseph: When the U.S. government forced the Nez Perce to move to the existing reservation, Chief Joseph led his tribe on a long trek to Canada to escape. However, they surrendered in the Bear Paw mountains of Montana, just 40 miles from Canada. “I will fight no more forever,” he said. His people were sent to reservations in Oklahoma, then Washington. The tribe is now located in north Idaho.
  • Saving the Snake River: The tribe’s Salmon Orca Project is dedicated to restoring the Snake River by removing its lower dams. The goal: protecting salmon and other fish — and the orcas who depend on them.
  • Energy self-reliance: Nimiipuu Energy, a tribally-owned energy cooperative, is working on creating a cross-country, tribal network of alternative energy sources. Along with Project 5311, they aim to replace the energy “Bonneville Power claims the dams provide.”
  • Tribal hemp farms: The tribe supports hemp farmers growing within the reservation boundaries. They aim to “create a viable hemp system that promotes tribal sovereignty and provides business opportunity to tribal farmers and land owners.”
  • Visit the Nez Perce tribe’s website for more information.

Local schools, by the numbers: .

  • Lapwai School District: According to the State Department of Education, 387 Native American students attend these schools, making up about 76% of the district’s student population. The district's records show it has 479 Native American students, comprising about 92% of the population.

Coeur d’Alene

Coeur d’Alene (Schitsu’umsh)

Get to know the tribe:

  • American heroes: Coeur d’Alene tribal members have served in every major U.S. conflict since WWII: “Brave men and women of our tribal families have landed on the shores of Normandy, and served in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.”
  • Cleaning up the Coeur d’Alene watershed: In 1991, the tribe filed a lawsuit to force restoration of the Coeur d’Alene watershed, where the mining industry dumped 72 million tons of waste into the water over a hundred-year period. Today, the Silver Valley is “the nation’s second largest Superfund site.” The tribe is among the entities leading cleanup efforts: “We do it not just for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, but for everybody.”
  • A casino, farms, and wellness center: The tribe owns the Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort Hotel, which employs about 500 people and generates about $20 million in profits annually. The 6,000-acre tribal farm produces wheat, barley, peas, lentils, and canola. And the tribe’s wellness center includes a medical facility that “has evolved to be a national model for both Indian health care and rural health care.”
  • Visit the Coeur d’Alene tribe’s website for more information.

Local schools, by the numbers: .

  • Coeur d’Alene Tribal School: All of the school’s approximately 100 K-8 students are Native American. This is one of two Idaho schools run by tribal governments. It is located in DeSmet, on the southern end of the Coeur d’Alene Reservation.
  • Plummer-Worley School District: 159 Native American students attend these schools, making up about 46% of the district’s student population.


Kootenai (Ktunaxa) 

Get to know the tribe:

  • Montana/Canada connection: The U.S.-Canadian border “split the Kootenai people into seven communities — the Kootenai tribe of Idaho, as well as bands and tribes at several locations in British Columbia and Montana.”
  • Saving the sturgeon: The Kootenai River white sturgeon was listed as an endangered species in 1994. The Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, state and federal agencies, and the Bonneville Power Administration, have worked to recover this species. The tribe also has its own sturgeon hatchery.
  • A 1974 war for land and services: In 1974, the then 67 members of the tribe declared war on the United States, which had threatened to sell the tribe’s land even though it had not signed a treaty. The war was peaceful, non-violent, and lasted only a few days. The government allocated 12.5 acres to the tribe, provided roads, a sewer, and city water, and access to education, employment, and social development funding.
  • Visit the Kootenai tribe’s website for more information.

Local schools, by the numbers: 

  • Boundary County School District: The district has 37 Native American students, making up about 2.6% of its population.


Shoshone-Paiute (Numu)

Get to know the tribe:

  • The 101 Ranch: The tribes own and operate a cattle and crops ranch, known as the Wilson/101 Ranch. The property totals 938 acres and includes a ranch house, outbuildings, corrals, a barn, feedlot, and holding corrals.
  • Wetlands and a reservoir: The nearly-290,000 acre Duck Valley Reservation includes more than 22,000 acres of wetlands and the Wildhorse Reservoir, built in 1936 for irrigation. Today, the tribes maintain several camping areas at the reservoir.
  • Rainbow trout fisheries: Anglers can try their luck at Lake Billy Shaw, Mountain View Reservoir, and Sheep Creek Reservoir. The Owyhee River is also open to fishing (fishing permits are required for all).
  • Visit the Shoshone-Paiute tribes’ website for more information.

Local schools, by the numbers: 

  • Owyhee Combined School: This K-12 school serves 277 Native American students, who comprise about 92% of its student population. The school is located on the Duck Valley Reservation and serves Idaho students and tribes.