The Indigenous of Aspen on “walking in harmony”


Aspen Indigenous Foundation

Buffalo Child and Deanne Vitrac-Kesslerare at the Shining Mountains Film Festival in Aspen, Colorado

By Hannah Smith and Oceane Jones

Although silver mining in Aspen, Colorado dates back to 1879, the people of the Indigenous Ute tribe have occupied Aspen’s mountains long before any settlers or miners.​​ Today, many local Native Americans are living on reservations, facing repression and systematic division. Although Natives still face injustices, they hope that balance and harmony can be found between the valley’s differing cultures.

Buffalo Child and Deanne Vitrac-Kessler, key members of the Aspen Indigenous Foundation, are actively working to attain this balance and harmony through cultural education. Buffalo Child, an actor for the foundation, and Vitrac-Kessler, executive director, are also aiding repressed Natives throughout the valley.

Through the support of tribal members and grassroots programs, the foundation provides Natives access to social and economic opportunities valley-wide. Additionally, the Indigenous foundation seeks to elevate awareness of Indigenous presence and history, imparting the wisdom of their culture.

For Buffalo Child, improved relations between Indigenous people and people from other cultures is essential to promoting equality, not just in the valley, but globally. He explains that by working together, people of different cultures can create a more beautiful and unified world for everyone. Aspen’s settlers are no longer seen as enemies by the Native Americans.

“When you take your relationship with the Indigenous people and your people you create harmony and you make a better world. It’s no longer the permit of way where you were an enemy, and all our ideals are this way and yours are that. This is what we should all strive for, making a little effort to compromise,” Buffalo Child said.

Vitrac-Kessler emphasizes the importance of cultural education in eliminating the repression Natives face living in reservations.

“Given the opportunity, people are happy to learn about other people’s ways. You realize that they are no different than yourself because humans want happiness and no one wants suffering, and when we are the same there is no more racism, tolerance, and judgment,” Vitrac-Kessler said.

Buffalo Child and Vitrac-Kessler maintain a positive outlook, despite the misfortune of indigenous ancestors, emphasizing that Natives have lived in this valley for thousands of years, leaving a pristine environment and a model for us all to admire and respect.

Their hope is for all living on traditional ancestral lands to respect Mother Earth and the values of the ancestors who walked harmoniously before us.

“We know that there’s always a transition of life- not all transitions are good, and not all transitions are bad, but the transitions do exist. The best scenario is where you take the transition and you make it positive,” Buffalo Child said.

The foundation is tackling milestones to host film festivals and cultural education programs. Their main goal is to build bridges of peace and equality between cultures, bringing positivity to communities.

“We should look at doing things in a manner where we enhance each other. So when we walk in harmony, we enhance the place we live in, you create harmony, and you make a better world,” Buffalo Child said.

*Make sure to take a look at the Aspen Indigenous Foundation’s website for more information on hosted events, Indigenous history in the valley, and the upcoming Pow Wow on April 19th. Through the Shining Mountains Film Festival, the Shining Mountains Pow Wow, and the sweat lodge, the foundation is helping communities both indigenous and non-indigenous.

“For us, that’s why it was so important, the film festival, because you can bring to light all of that beautiful culture and the beautiful traditional ways of the American Indians, and then others can appreciate. We realize we are all brothers and sisters on this earth, and so, like Buffalo said, then comes harmony,” Vitrac-Kessler said.

This story was originally published on The Skier Scribbler on January 9, 2022.