Chris Angela Nelson

Associate Professor; Faculty Director, NAI

What I do

I am an Associate Professor in the Morgridge College of Education - Higher Education Department. I am the first tribally enrolled Indigenous woman to achieve tenure at the University of Denver.


Indigenous Education, higher education, Indigenous Methodology

Professional Biography

Dr. Chris A. Nelson (she/her) is from the K’awaika (Laguna Pueblo) and Diné (Navajo/enrolled) tribal communities. She is an associate professor of higher education at the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver (DU) and the Native Faculty Director for Native American/Indigenous initiatives under DU’s Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Her research utilizes a blending of critical theory and Indigenous relationality theory to explore the purpose and function of higher education. By addressing the collective and political factors influencing college access and completion for Indigenous college students, Chris strives to uphold the educational aspirations held by Indigenous communities.
Harnessing her 20 years as a higher education professional and faculty member, she explores how higher education institutions organize and operate to better understand how institutions can live out their commitments to supporting Indigenous visibility and presence. When she isn’t sitting in front of the computer, she is a mother to Olin, a partner to talented artist Johnny, and a cat mom to Lucky Cat and Fletcher. Chris has been an avid soccer player and spectator since she was 4 years old.


  • Ph.D., Higher Education, University of Arizona, 2015
  • MA, Higher Education, University of Arizona, 2010

Professional Affiliations

  • Association for the Study of Higher Education

Key Projects

  • New Mexico Learning and Education Consortium (NMLEC)

Featured Publications

Nelson, C. A., Lee, S., Reyes, A., & Chang, E. (2023). (Re)wiring settler colonial practices in higher education: Creating indigenous centered futures through considerations of power, the social, place, and space. Springer. Higher Education: Handbook Of Theory And Research, 1-77.


Nelson, C. A. (2023). Give back the land, with Chris Nelson. Scholar Tea.
Nelson, C. A., & Minthorn, R. Z. (2022). Indigenous motherhood in the academy. On Sacred Ground.


Minthorn, R. Z., & Nelson, C. A. (2018). Colonized and racist Indigenous campus tour. American Educational Research Association. San Antonio, TX.
Nelson, C. A., & Turner, T. (2023). Betwixt the Ivory Tower and the School Blacktop: Mama-Scholars of Color Navigating White Educational Spaces. AERA Annual Meeting. Chicago, IL: American Educational Research Association.
Nelson, C. A. (2018). College-going Paradox for Indigenous Students. National Institute for Native Leadership in Higher Education . Greeley, CO.
Nelson, C. A., Garcia-Olp, M., & Hinzo, A. (2019). Resisting interlocking systems of oppression through Indigenized STEM curriculum and relationship building. CRESEA 2018 Annual Conference. San Diego, CA: Critical Race Studies in Education Association (CRESEA).


  • AERA Division J - Postsecondary Education Poster Award, AERA Division J
  • 2020 ASHE Special Merit Award, Association for the Study of Higher Education
  • Bobby Wright Award for Early Career Contributions to Research in Indigenous Education, AERA Indigenous Peoples of the Americas Special Interest Group
  • Indigenous Peoples’ Day Proclamation Reading Honoree , Council of the City and County of Denver and the Agency for Human Rights and Community Partnerships