One hour. Five incredible organizations. All that’s missing is you.

On June 26, 2020 at 1 P.M. EST, #NationSwellLive will convene leaders at the frontlines of COVID-19 response for communities with some of the most urgent need — and you can be a part of helping their efforts.

Ahead of our event, NationSwell spoke with some members of the leadership team for NDN Collective, an organization whose mission is to be “the most ambitious, systemic effort to empower indigenous communities in the history of philanthropy.” This is what they had to say about how COVID-19 has affected indigenous populations across North America, how they’ve pivoted their efforts to meet that urgent need — and how you can help assist their efforts.


NationSwell: Who are the communities you serve, and how has COVID-19 impacted them?

Nick Tilsen, President and CEO of NDN Collective: One of the fundamental beliefs of NDN Collective is that we don’t recognize the colonial borders that divide indigenous people. We work with indigenous people in North America — hundreds of indigenous nations, and we only invest in indigenous-led organizations, which we define as Boards that are 100% indigenous and staff that are 70% indigenous. We don’t support organizations or give our support to organizations that are “serving a people.” We give resources to organizations that are led by the people of those places.

One area that we’re doing this work is in the area of philanthropy. Right now, 0.3% of all philanthropy in America goes to indigenous people — and that is clearly not enough. So part of our collective approach is really upsetting and disrupting the status quo in the field of philanthropy and addressing white supremacy in the field of philanthropy, because it’s a fundamental reason why indigenous people have not been supported.

When the COVID-19 crisis started, we wanted to leverage this infrastructure that we had built and address the invisibility issue of indigenous people. So we pivoted and made a couple big decisions.

One, that we were not going to stop existing programming that we were already doing by and for indigenous people.

Two, that we were going to create a $10 million scalable fund to support indigenous people in a variety of ways that indigenous people need to be supported in this moment.

Michael Johnson, Director of Advancement for NDN Collective: What we decided to do with the $10 million fund was create a decently robust grant opportunity for tribes, indigenous-led organizations and indigenous individuals. And we just finished round one of that. On the tribes and institutions side, we granted 95 grants for $2.5 million, all ranging for emergency response services for tribes dealing with the first wave of COVID-19. So we had projects that were looking at supporting medical supplies, or helping set up virtual communication systems for the tribe, or dealing with elder food and medical delivery or educational systems for youth.

Going into the second phase of the project in July, we’ll be pivoting a little bit. While we’ll still be doing mutual aid support, we’ll also be looking at a new kind of forward-facing opportunity that’s more aligned with transition planning and resiliency planning for community, thinking about how can we take this unfortunate moment to strategize about protecting, strengthening and making our communities more durable into the future. And this really fits back into NDN’s mission and our theory of change around investing in those who are defending, developing and de-colonizing in their community towards the strengthening of self-determination and building indigenous power.

Nikki Love, NDN Fund Managing Director: The work that we all do is movement building. So we have fellows that are on the front lines in a lot of these issues around climate justice, social justice — but that all of the work that we do on the investing and lending side has to support that. We’re going to be moving a hundred million into projects around renewable energy, infrastructure, social enterprise, directly supporting businesses in private sector economy, infrastructure and affordable housing.

When we were talking about COVID-19, one thing that was very evident is that our businesses, our native businesses, and there’s over 250,000 of them across the country, and probably more that are just not officially registered, and they’re hurting. And a lot of them are in retail, and food service and these accommodation industries that are directly impacted, disproportionately impacted. And then there’s already this big disparity ratio between the representation of our businesses compared to white businesses. And then we’re seeing this double effect of COVID-19. And then I would say an additional layer is that all of the federal relief programs under the Cares Act and the Small Business Administration, they’re just not really accessible for our businesses and they’re not either legally structured or they need additional capacity building to access them.

So in response to that, as part of that $10 million COVID response project, we also had to set aside artist and entrepreneur grants to support them directly.

NationSwell: How can our audience help?

NT: The number one way is that people can still contribute to our COVID-19 response fund directly. We work with individuals, we work with all ends of ways for people to give.

Another way is following our stuff on social media at NDN Collective, and being able to share out some of our messages, because such a big part of our work is about shifting the narrative and building a new narratives. And we’re constantly putting out information — that’s raw, authentic, from frontline indigenous communities for a wide variety of different things. And I think that addressing the invisibility issue with indigenous people is something that we all have to do collectively, it’s not just on us to do that.

And I think the other way is: There’s a growing movement for us to do land acknowledgements wherever we are in this country, because it’s through the process of the invisibilization of indigenous people, people have become disconnected from this historical reality that wherever they are in this country, they’re on indigenous people’s land somewhere. And so there’s a growing movement for people to acknowledge them, that this people’s land which they stand on, before meetings, before gatherings, before. And it’s a small gesture to honor the ancestors, but it’s also a reality and a way to bring the indigenous people in room into every conversation happening in this country.

NL: Another way is, a lot of conversations we have are like different investment vehicles, forms of capital. They’re not all known to most of our communities, even the economic development folks at our tribes. So we talk about the importance of social capital — inviting us into those spaces, and having those conversations with us, the knowledge sharing around how that side of the equation works. To the private investment community: Open more of those conversations and help us scaffold our way into those spaces.

To learn more about #NationSwellLive, visit our event page here.