“We will continue leaning in”: Nick Tilsen on COVID-19 Response | NDN Collective

Nick Tilsen · May 6, 2020

“We will continue leaning in”: Nick Tilsen on COVID-19 Response

NDN Collective President and CEO Nick Tilsen recaps the past month of mobilization in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hau Mitakuyapi. Greetings, Relatives.


This past month has been one filled with extraordinary challenges and yet answered with even more extraordinary courage. As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, hitting North America and devastating Indigenous communities, we here at NDN Collective recognized this as a call-to-action– an opportunity to show up for our people, our communities and our movement.

We mobilized quickly, creating a comprehensive, multi-phased COVID-19 response strategy that included grant-making, narrative and truth-telling, capacity-building and mobilizing communities into action. As Tribal and community  leaders throughout the nation began reaching out to us by the dozens, we asked our philanthropic partners to not pull back but instead, step up. In challenging times, we came together, galvanizing a movement to protect our communities while holding on to the vision for radical transformation, which is what we set out to do since the inception of this organization.

We must build up people of color and Indigenous-led philanthropic and movement infrastructure organizations in order to challenge the power structures in this country and invest into the self-determination of the people on the frontlines.

We made a bold decision to keep existing programming going here at NDN Collective, while building a new fund and strategy to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. In the past 30 days we have raised over $4 million and deployed over $2.5 million to nearly 100 partners impacting over 200 Indigenous communities. This was possible because of organizers, activists, Tribal leaders, partners, philanthropic collaborators, and straight-up changemakers who were willing to step up in this historic moment.

I have been saying for years: We must build up people of color and Indigenous-led philanthropic and movement infrastructure organizations in order to challenge the power structures in this country and invest into the self-determination of the people on the frontlines– those who are closest to the pain and closest to the problems. When we do so, we will see innovation, courage, and we will begin building a pathway of justice and equity that will eventually lead us all to liberation.

We will continue leaning in, binding together, moving resources and taking action.

The past 30 days have been evidence that organizations like NDN Collective, who have grown out of movements with lived experience in doing this work, can be catalytic. We can stimulate change not only in times of crisis, but on the daily, as we strive to co-create the new world we are fighting for. We are charting a path forward, and there’s nobody else I would rather be in relationship with to do this work than with partners like all of you.

We will continue leaning in, binding together, moving resources and taking action, for the movements we build today will be the same force that creates the change tomorrow and for generations to come. 

Nick Tilsen
Nick Tilsen

Nick Tilsen, President & CEO, is a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation. Tilsen has over 18 years of experience building place-based innovations that have the ability to inform systems change solutions around climate resiliency, sustainable housing and equitable community development. He founded NDN Collective to scale these place-based solutions while building needed philanthropic, social impact investment, capacity and advocacy infrastructure geared towards building the collective power of Indigenous Peoples. Tilsen has received numerous fellowships and awards from Ashoka, Rockefeller Foundation, Bush Foundation and the Social Impact Award from Claremont-Lincoln University. He has an honorary doctorate degree from Sinte Gleska University.

September 2021 Edition

Stay Informed. Take Action.

Subscribe to the NDN allies newsletter

Sign up to get our newsletter. Delivered once per month.

We care about the protection of your data and would never sell your email or share it with anyone without your permission.

Posted 13 hours ago NDN Collective Statement of Condolence: Honoring the Life of Marie Randall Brushbreaker
In honor of a beloved Lakota matriarch and Land Defender who stood up for Mother Earth.
Posted 4 days ago NDN Collective Launches Book at NY Climate Week, ‘Required Reading’ Calling for Bold Climate Action and Indigenous Climate Solutions
NDN Collective announces the official launch of the organization’s first book curated by the NDN Climate Justice Campaign. ‘Required Reading: Climate Justice, Adaptation + Investing in Indigenous Power’ is a practical guide for seasoned politicians and grassroots advocates alike to establish equitable and meaningful solutions to the climate catastrophe.
Posted 1 week ago 'We Matter': Native Youth Join the Fight Against Indigenous Erasure in SD State Education Standards at March, Rally and Solidarity Actions Across the State

Brandi Douglas

Hundreds participate in the Oceti Sakowin March for Our Children, demanding education equity and resignation of numerous SD public officials for complicity in Indigenous erasure
Posted 2 weeks ago Supporting & Honoring Our Youth: NDN Collective 2nd Annual Backpack Giveaway Draws Hundreds

Brandi Douglas

Students receive school supplies, NDN swag, free COVID-19 vaccines, and sign-up for the Oceti Sakowin Community Academy, opening Fall 2022
Posted 3 weeks ago NDN Collective Holding March for Youth, calling out Indigenous erasure in newly proposed SD social studies standards
Action to oppose the recently proposed updates to SD’s social studies standards by Governor Noem and the South Dakota Department of Education and uplift demands for inclusive, historically accurate education for all students in South Dakota
Posted 3 weeks ago Books that Build Indigenous Power
In Celebration of National Read a Book Day, Check Out What the NDN Collective Ecosystem Is Reading
Posted 4 weeks ago NDN Collective to Host 2nd Annual Backpack Giveaway for Rapid City Youth and Oceti Sakowin Community Academy Pre-Registration
NDN Collective will host their 2nd Annual Backpack Giveaway for PreK-12 grade students in the Rapid City area on Tuesday, September 7th. Pre-registration will also be available for the Oceti Sakowin Community Academy, the Indigenous-led school being opened by NDN Collective in partnership with NISN
Posted 4 weeks ago We Deserve Better: Rapid City Police Department's “Wild West” Behavior Towards Indigenous Peoples Must End

Sunny Red Bear

"This type of intentional humiliation and maltreatment of Native People on the streets of Rapid City, and inside of its institutions is directly connected to the racism and violence against Native Peoples that is part and parcel to the foundation of this country."
Posted 1 month ago Nick Tilsen Statement on Interaction with Police at NDN Collective Headquarters
"NDN Collective is here to do our best to stand up for Native people and build communities that create real opportunities for transformation and change. We will continue to protect our people on the streets while we create jobs, improve education, and build a more equitable future."
Posted 2 months ago NDN Collective Responds to Blatant Erasure of Indigenous People in South Dakota Education Standards
NDN Collective joins the South Dakota Education Equity Coalition’s call for public comment on the blatant erasure of Oceti Sakowin history in South Dakota’s newly proposed social studies standards and encourages supporters to call elected officials, the Secretary of Education, and their local school districts to advocate against this erasure.
NDN Collective
408 Knollwood Dr
Rapid City, SD 57701
P: +1 (605) 791-3999
E: info@ndncollective.org
© 2021 NDN Collective. All rights reserved.