Lakota actor Zahn McClaron headlines NAGSA winter conference in Las Vegas

Actor Zahn McClarnon speaks at the NAGSA conference. (Photos/Joe George)

Actor Zahn McClarnon speaks at the NAGSA conference. (Photos/Joe George)

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

McClarnon’s talk was on the second day of the three-day conference Dec. 15. He spoke to an audience of about 200.

In a 16 minute talk followed by a question and answer session, McClarnon 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,” John said. “I wish there were more kids here to listen to his talk.”

McClarnon is is also in the Western crime drama series Longmire, the second season of Fargo, and the second season of Westworld. He is also featured in the 2021 FX on Hulu series Reservation Dogs, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe series Hawkeye (2021), and Echo (2023).


NAGSA board members. (Photos/Joe George)

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 Dec. 15, a student dance group from Dishchiibikoh Community School performed Apache Crown Dancing. The event also had Elizabeth Johnson from Eastern Michigan University who held group work session entitled “Let ‘EM Lead: Demonstration of highly engaging and interactive group problem to cultivate student ownership and autonomy.”


A dance troupe performs at the NAGSA conference. (Photos/Joe George)

On Dec. 16, Pinon Community School counselor Kyle Sandoval, who has a master’s degree in school counsleing, 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. Etsitty has been a school psychologist for 14 years.

The next NAGSA event will be in spring 2024.

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