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NAGSA winter conference headlined by actor Zahn McClarnon

Updated: Jan 9

LAS VEGAS — This year’s Native American Grant School Association winter conference was headlined by Lakota actor Zahn McClarnon.  McClarnon is well-known in Indian Country for playing  Lt. Joe Leaphorn on AMC’s Dark Winds television series.

“I don’t normally give talks,” he told the audience of about 200 on Dec. 15 at noon. “I really don’t know what to tell you. But I can tell you a little about myself,” he said.  Then in a 16 minute talk followed by a question and answer session, he told the crowd about the difficult times he endured before getting to where he is today.

In response to a question about what he would say to today’s Native American kids, he said. “I would tell kids, be proud of who you are. Be proud of being native.”

His speech hit it out of the ballpark, said NAGSA Board President Rudie John. “People really liked what he had to say,” he said. “I wish there were more kids here to listen to his talk.” 

McClarnon’s talk was on the second day of the three-day conference.

The mission of the Native American Grant School Association is to advocate for, and ensure quality education for all Native American students NAGSA director Tom Franklin said. He said 13 of their 15 member schools participated in the winter conference, and included four schools who are not members.  “We had one school from Apache, six from Hopi, and 10 from Navajo,” Franklin said. A total of 110 registered and three schools brought along students to perform he said.

On the first day, a student dance group directed by Brent Chase captivated the audience. Chase shared Navajo stories of emergence.

Then a presentation by Rachel Robbin’s-Whited, a lecturer  from Eastern Michigan University who led a game based on the Pedagogy theory of famed educator Pierre.

On Friday a student dance group from Dishchiibikoh Community School performed Apache Crown Dancing. Friday’s event also had Elizabeth Johnson from Eastern Michigan University who held group events for work session entitled “Let ‘EM Lead: Demonstration of HIGHLY- Engaging and Interactive Group Problem to Cultivate Student Ownership and Autonomy.

On Saturday Dec. 16, Pinon Community School counselor Kyle Sandoval who has a master’s degree in school counseling, did a presentation entitled “Long Term Impacts of Family Engagement on Adolescents Development.”

Sandoval helps guides students to navigate through their intended aspirations along with providing social-emotional support. Sandoval recently graduated from Grand Canyon University with a Masters of Arts in School Counseling.

Gerald Etsitty, owner of Etsitty Psychoeducational Services, LLC,  talked about testing and how school psychologist work. Mr. Etsitty has been a school psychologist for 14 years.

Zahn Tokiya-ku McClarnon is an American actor known for his performances in the Western crime drama series Longmire, the second season of Fargo, and the second season of Westworld. In 2022 he plays the lead role in the AMC series Dark Winds. He also features in the 2021 FX on Hulu series Reservation Dogs, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe series Hawkeye (2021), and Echo (2023).

The NAGSA conference started on Thursday Dec. 14 and ran through Sat. Dec. 16, 2023.  The next event will be the Spring 2024 youth conference, now in the planning stages said Franklin.

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