August 21, 2020

NDN Collective President and CEO Nick Tilsen Faces 15 Years in Prison for Protest Against White Supremacy

NDN Collective President and CEO Nick Tilsen faces legal backlash from the State of South Dakota with trumped-up charges for the stand he and other land defenders took in the Black Hills on July 3rd leading up to Trump's visit to Mount Rushmore.

FOR IMMEDIAT RELEASE: August 21, 2020

Rapid City, South Dakota– NDN Collective President and CEO Nick Tilsen is facing 3 felony charges and up to 15 years in prison for the stand he took on July 3rd in Ȟesápa, known today as the Black Hills, while in protest of President Donald Trump’s visit to Mount Rushmore. A preliminary hearing is taking place today, Friday, August 21, at 10:00 a.m. MST in the Pennington County Courthouse in Rapid City.

In the lead up to Trump’s visit to the Black Hills on July 3rd, over 200 protestors, including Tilsen, gathered and were soon met with excessive police force. These protestors, also known as land defenders, were demanding the closure of Mount Rushmore and protesting the unwelcome intrusion of Trump and his celebration of white supremacy on stolen land. 

Indigenous and Lakota women gather on the side of the highway in the lead up to Donald Trump’s visit to the Black Hills. Photo by Willi White.

“The intention behind the action was to continue the fight to return the Black Hills to the Oglala Lakota people,” said Tilsen. “Every generation since the land was taken has fought to get it back, and many of us, including myself, grew up around this movement to get our land back.”

Twenty land defenders were arrested in the Black Hills that day, all facing misdemeanor charges, and Tilsen, facing three felonies. Tilsen, a well-known and respected Indigenous movement leader, was held in Pennington County jail over the weekend in Rapid City, ultimately facing a slew of trumped-up charges amounting to a potential 15 years in prison.

“I’ve worked hard to make a better way for our people,” said Tilsen, who has devoted his entire adult life to community development and justice for Indigenous people. “These trumped up charges aren’t just against me– they’re against our people. These charges are designed to derail our movements. But we stand on the right side of history and we know our ancestors stand with us.”

NDN Collective President and CEO Nick Tilsen stands outside of the NDN Headquarters upon his release from Pennington County Jail on July 6. Photo by Arlo Iron Cloud.

On Saturday, August 15, NDN Collective announced the release of three online petitions related to the action, aimed to 1) urge the closure of  Mt. Rushmore and return of all public lands in Black Hills, 2) drop all charges against the Black Hill land defenders, and 3) to drop charges against NDN Collective President and CEO Nick Tilsen. The petitions, which can be found below, have received approximately 30,000 signatures to date. 


“We understand that our actions on July 3rd and the national media attention garnered deeply embarrassed South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem and Sheriff Thom,” said Tilsen. “And what we are now facing is total backlash. These charges are nothing short of abuse of power and this is exactly what is wrong with the legal system today. It is undeniably white supremacy at work.”

On Friday morning at 8:45 a.m. MST, NDN Collective will be live-streaming to their Facebook page a solidarity march from the NDN Collective headquarters to State’s Attorney Mark Vargo’s office to deliver the petitions.  A live-streamed press conference will follow on the steps of the courthouse at 9:05 a.m., and another press conference will take place after the hearing. 

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About NDN Collective

NDN Collective is an Indigenous-led organization dedicated to building Indigenous power. Through organizing, activism, philanthropy, grantmaking, capacity-building and narrative change, we are creating sustainable solutions on Indigenous terms.

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