Indigenous Peoples Heritage Month

  • Gratitude
  • The Aspen Difference
Yuzo Nieto

Dearest Aspen Community,

In celebration of Indigenous Peoples Heritage Month, I would like to begin by sharing a Land Acknowledgement to honor the land in which we currently occupy. But first, let me take a moment to officially introduce myself: my name is Yuzo Nieto and I am completing a year-long fellowship (through Moonshot edVentures) as Academic Director in Residence at Aspen Academy. I am thankful for this opportunity to learn from this wonderful community and to use this knowledge to inform the design of my proposed K-8 charter school, Radical Arts Academy of Denver. Some of my background in Indigenous Studies includes a B.A. in Ethnic Studies (with a focus in American Indian Studies) and an M.A. in Educational Psychology from the University of Colorado of which my thesis topic focused on Culturally Responsive Implementation of Indigenous Studies in Primary and Secondary Education. Continuing on that path, I will share the Land Acknowledgement I drafted as a means to engage with the history, space, and place in which we live and work:

We collectively acknowledge the traditional, ancestral, and contemporary lands of Indigenous peoples in which we currently occupy including: Inuna-ina (Arapaho), Šahíyena (Cheyenne), Núu-tsiu (Ute), Ndee (Apache), Diné (Navajo), Newe (Shoshone), Nermernuh (Comanche), Anasazi (Pueblo), Ka'igwu (Kiowa), and Ni-u-kon-ska (Osage). Further, we acknowledge the 48 first nations historically tied to the lands that comprise what is now known as Colorado as a result of colonization. 

With this land acknowledgment, we celebrate the many contributions of Native peoples to the fields of medicine, mathematics, government and military service, arts, literature, engineering and more. We also recognize the sophisticated and intricate knowledge systems Indigenous peoples have developed in relationship to these lands.

We honor and appreciate the many diverse Indigenous peoples still connected to this land and the indigenous ancestors of this place of learning. May we all walk together in harmony and love our precious mother Earth.

As we expand our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work here at Aspen, we encourage all our community members to expand our awareness of the beautiful and contemporary Indigenous cultures that continue to thrive today. We also hope that you will ask the question, “Why have so many of the Indigenous populations left Colorado?” It is important to acknowledge and understand the counternarratives of our tumultuous history as well.

Here are some suggested topics to inform our continued learning:

  • Unpack and discuss the true history of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, specifically Wampanoag, Tisquantum (aka Squanto), Plymouth, and the Pilgrim colonization. If you are interested in learning more, here is an article as a point of departure.
  • Research and visit the Sand Creek site in eastern Colorado. Examine how the multidimensional process of colonization contributes to the eradication of people, languages, environments, food, histories, religions and land.
  • Celebrate the many contributions of Native peoples to the fields of medicine, mathematics, government and military service, arts, literature, engineering and more.

With that being said, I offer myself as a resource and thought partner in the field of Indigenous studies. I have been passionate about this topic since my youth when I was first introduced to the alleged ‘heroism’ of Columbus and the immediate disconnect I felt around the idea of ‘discovering’ a place that was already established with rich, dynamic cultures of people therein. Not to mention the teachings passed down by my ancestors (our great grandmother was 100% Mescalero Apache) especially through the work of my uncle and god-father, John Nieto: a prolific visual artist known for transforming contemporary Indigenous American art with his brilliantly creative use of color. The blog image is a piece of his work. I hope that it will inspire us all to truly appreciate the brilliance of Indigenous Peoples and to recognize that by elevating their influence we elevate ourselves and our nation as a whole.


Thank you,


Yuzo Nieto

Academic Director in Residence

Aspen Academy

About the Author

Yuzo Nieto, Academic Director in Residence

Yuzo Nieto served the Far Northeast area of Denver as both a music teacher and general elementary teacher for 8+ years and is currently in his dissertation phase for his Doctorate in Music Education with a focus in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Northern Colorado. Additionally, he is Chief Executive Arts Director and one of three co-founders at Radical Arts Academy of Denver (RAAD): a prospective Charter School pioneering Arts Based Learning from a lens of critical consciousness and community responsive pedagogy. He is excited at the opportunity to be a Moonshot Resident at Aspen Academy this year and to grow alongside students/community in such a wonderfully immersive entrepreneurial environment offered here. When he is not being a father of two elementary-aged children, Yuzo is likely playing music as the bandleader and songwriter for the original 10-piece ChicanoBeat (Hip-Hop + Afrobeat) ensemble, Pink Hawks.