Robert Chacanaca and about 20 other AFT members from Hawaii, Alaska, the Midwest and Southwest attended the recent National Indian Education Association convention and trade show in Reno, Nevada.

The convention included scores of professional development workshops, as well as a timely presentation on the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s historic fight to stop construction of an oil pipeline across North Dakota.

Chacanaca — a member of the Kupa tribe who heads the Santa Cruz Council of Classified Employees, AFT Local 6084 — said the AFT stepped up its support for the NIEA last year, when President Randi Weingarten was the keynote speaker at the annual convention.

The result, Chacanaca said, has been “more Native awareness within the AFT.”

Classified employees play a key role, he said, in “schools where there are Native teaching aides, food service staff and office personnel, but not necessarily Native teachers.”

The AFT also represents school employees on large reservations run by the federal Bureau of Indian Education, a part of the overarching Bureau of Indian Affairs. Union members run the gamut from staff to instructors.

Chacanaca said the majority of Native students in California attend local public schools, with rising percentages in the far southern and northern reaches of the state.