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The NDN Collective Inc., a nonprofit organization self-described as an entity built “to equip all Indigenous peoples with the tools needed to become architects of our future,” has recently announced the creation of the NDN COVID-19 Response Project — a project designed to “provide immediate relief to some of the most underserved communities in the country.”

According to the collective, $3.5 million dollars is currently available for tribal and Indigenous organizations. Additionally, the collective is announcing an effort to give Indigenous entrepreneurs and artists $5,000 grants.

The COVID-19 Response grant application period is open until Friday, May 29, 2020.

According to Nick Tilsen, the organization's president and CEO, “NDN Collective is a 100% governance-staffed nonprofit organization, and our goal and our purpose is to build the collective power of Indigenous people by investing into Indigenous self-determination.”

“We do that by supporting individuals, organizations, tribes, nations, communities, by investing in the area of defend, develop, and decolonize...,” said Tilsen.

“There is the work of defending air, land, water rights, developing regenerative and inclusive economies based in Indigenous values, and decolonizing through the revitalization of our Indigenous languages, ceremonies, life ways, governance structures, and NDN Collective really exists for the purpose of investing into Indigenous self-determination.”

Tilsen says the fund will assist tribal communities and organizations that are awaiting resources from the federal stimulus package.

VIDEO Interview with Nick Tilsen, NDN Collective President and CEO

Other NDN Collective staff also offered comments.

“While the federal stimulus package has some great resources that will soon be available for tribes and tribal serving organizations, many frontline groups, rural and understaffed tribes will be at a disadvantage to gain access to those resources,” says Michael Johnson, NDN Collective Director of Advancement in the release. “NDN’s Project is meant to bolster and support existing services and make sure that our people have access to essential services during this time.”

“NDN Collective is uniquely positioned to respond in a quicker and more proportional way than the federal government,” says Nikki Love, Managing Director of the NDN Fund. “We are more flexible, we co-design programs directly with our Indigenous people, and have an extensive ecosystem, both inside and outside of Indian Country.”

NDN Collective staff Nick Tilsen, Nikki Love and Michael Johnson

NDN Collective says the priority will go to those organizations that “demonstrate experience and capability and can detail the effect of immediate response planning, access to expanded health care services, adequate housing, and additional food and supplies that will benefit their communities.”

“In our response, we also recognize this is not just a time of triage, but to prepare the way for growth and regeneration over the next generations,” says Love. “Our COVID-19 response looks at how we can support Indigenous people during these hard times and position them for long-term abundance through our Defend, Develop, and Decolonize lens.”

Tilsen also offered many reasons the collective was focusing on Indigenous organizations.

NDN Color

Crystal Echo Hawk, president of IllumiNative, stated: “The $10 million, the multi-phased project has been launched with an initial investment of $3.5 M from NDN’s partners, and NDN Collective is actively seeking additional resources to bolster immediate on-the-ground responses and long-term emergency, transition and recovery planning.”

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Before the pandemic

Nick Tilsen says the collective, NDN Collective was in the process of doing the work towards “building one of the biggest philanthropic funds in the history of philanthropy dedicated to Indigenous people,” but then the pandemic hit.

Tilsen decided to be proactive. “We made a conscious decision at that time to continue the work that we were doing ... We deemed it essential because we were doing grant-making to tribes, to leaders, to communities already who were doing amazing work, and so we wanted to continue that work as essential, but then create a new fund. And that would be in great support for Native communities in responding to the epidemic.”

"This is the time for philanthropy to show up for communities, especially in communities like Indian Country, that mostly philanthropy has largely ignored … Less than a half of percent of all philanthropy in America goes to Native people. And so this was an opportunity for us to say, ‘Hey, this is the time to double down and think about your support.’"

Tilsen was excited to get considerable support from reputable foundations such as the JPB Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Bush Foundation, the Libra Foundation, and Wend Collective.

In terms of eligibility, Tilsen says the collective largely focuses on supporting Indigenous-led efforts.

“We're less likely to support non-Indigenous relief organizations that are coming into communities. And we're more likely to support the Indigenous organizations that are planned from within communities, that are of those communities.”

“Applicants can range from your tribal government, we can give grants to 7871 organizations, we can give grants to Native nonprofits are eligible. Even if you don't have a 501(c)(3) or a nonprofit status, and you're just an emerging collective, as long as you're Indigenous-led and you're accountable to the community, you're eligible.


Tilsen said there are tiered grants available that range from $10-$15,000 for smaller groups and between $50-$100,000 in grants for tribes and larger organizations.. And so those are some of the ways that we're supporting. Additionally, the collective is announcing an effort to give Indigenous entrepreneurs and artists $5,000 grants.

“This fund is designed to try to fill in the gaps and actually give some of the tools and resources to folks that have become surgeons to this problem. We're not going to be able to help every single body that applies, but we're going to do our best to move these resources geographically all throughout Indian Country,” says Tilsen.

“Our biggest goal is, the more resilient that we can make our communities, the better.”

For more information on the NDN COVID-19 Response Project, visit

In addition, the NDN COVID-19 Response Project will be providing grant opportunities for Indigenous artists, small business owners, and entrepreneurs.

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Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling, Akwesasne Mohawk, on Twitter @VinceSchilling and Instagram @VinceSchilling

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