Nick Tilsen is the President and CEO of NDN Collective, an organization led by Indigenous People that builds Indigenous power and restores Indigenous self-determination. We discuss decolonization, revitalizing Indigenous cultures and languages, and creating sustainable solutions on Indigenous terms.
Self-determination empowers those who are most affected to be in the driver’s seat of policy-making decisions. For example, if an oil company wants to run a pipeline through Indigenous land, Indigenous communities themselves would decide based on their values and the impact on their families, water, air, and land. NDN collective works to restore self-determination through three pillars: defense, development, and decolonization.
European colonization was a system of white supremacy that annihilated complex Indigenous populations, cultures, languages, beliefs, land, and governing systems. The work of decolonization includes dismantling white supremacist systems of economic extraction and governance; education about the totality of colonial history; and the revitalization of Native languages and ways of being. Reclaiming Indigenous heritage is also an act of healing past traumas from colonization.
A key tenet of self-determination and decolonization is the “land back” movement. Theft of Indigenous lands was one of the fundamental ways Europeans colonized America. Stealing land and extracting its resources decimated both the land and the people who lived on it. The land back movement aims to right this wrong by returning public lands, like National Parks and National Forests, to the care of Indigenous People. Land back does not mean removing Americans from their homes. Instead, it means returning the land to Native stewardship focusing on preservation and rejuvenation.
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Nick Tilsen is the President & CEO of NDN Collective, and 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.
You can follow him on Twitter @NickTilsen.