Nick Tilsen is stepping down as the executive director of Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation in Porcupine, South Dakota. He will lead a new enterprise, the NDN Collective.
“This is a new startup that will help drive philanthropic, social impact investment, capacity building and advocacy support to Indigenous communities and expand the Thunder Valley model to other Native communities,” Tilsen said Monday.
Tilsen said he will remain on the Thunder Valley board and “maintain heavy involvement.”
In a Vimeo video, Tilsen said he was taking this step after 11 years because he wanted to create space for new leadership so that Thunder Valley can continue to grow and evolve. He said some 27 different Native nonprofits and 43 tribes different representing 70 Indigenous communities have asked for help to do something similar to Thunder Valley in their communities.
“We have been able to help here and there, but we haven’t had a vehicle, or a mechanism, to do that,” he said. Tilsen said that led him to think about creating a new organization, the NDN Collective.
The goal is to build capacity and eventually “hundreds of organizations like Thunder Valley out there in the world.”
Tilsen said the transition will occur through the year and Thunder Valley will be searching for a new executive director.
“Being a part of Thunder Valley over the past decade has changed my life. It has changed many, many peoples’ lives,” Tilsen said. “It’s been an honor to have walked this journey from an idea that started as a prayer, and as a concept, has grown into this movement and revolutionary ideas that are creating radical change here on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.”
Thunder Valley now has some 60 employees and another 60 part-time employees who are “creating radical change in this community” and he said contributes to an “ecosystem of opportunity.” Thunder Valley has programs to revitalize the Lakota language, building climate-resistance affordable housing, workforce development, community gardens and food sovereignty, and supporting arts and culture.
Thunder Valley CDC was awarded the Bush Prize for Community Innovation in November 2017 for its approach to community development. “The Bush Prize recognizes organizations that are creative, fierce and dogged in the way they work and in what they accomplish,” said Bush President Jennifer Ford Reedy. “As models for problem solving, they consistently pick a path of innovation that drives profound results for their communities.”
The Bush Foundation announced Tuesday that Tilsen will be one of 24 Bush Fellows for 2018 “... exceptional leaders who have made the most of the opportunities in their lives,” said Bush Foundation Leadership Programs Director Anita Patel. “We believe the well-being of our region is directly impacted by investing in individuals who will shape the future. We are betting on the potential of these 24 Fellows to make a significant impact in their communities.”
Other Bush Fellows this year from Indian Country include: Chef Sean Sherman, author Rhiana Yazzie, and Erik Bringswhite, an advocate for children and juvenile justice.
Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter Follow @TrahantReports