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The Transformative Power of Indigenous-Led Narrative Change, Philanthropy, and Impact: Episode 32 of Money + Meaning

SOCAP October 9, 2019

A new episode of SOCAP’s podcast series, Money + Meaning is now available!


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“Profound invisibility serves to really dehumanize Native peoples…we’ve found that people, when asked about Native American issues including basic access to employment and healthcare, people were less supportive because they couldn’t really connect with Native peoples because they don’t exist in their minds…These very harmful stereotypes and false narratives out in the American public–we absolutely need to change these.”
–Crystal Echo Hawk

“In order to truly have lasting impact we have to change the power dynamics that exist in philanthropy and the power dynamics that exist in the world of impact investing…there is an absolute disproportionate amount of power, privilege, and white supremacy, quite frankly, that’s living in philanthropy and the world of impact investing. And so it’s fundamental that we change that and challenge that and create new systems that are by and for (Indigenous) people.”  
–Nick Tilsen


A Conversation on Efforts to Create Lasting Change by Indigenous People for Indigenous People with Nick Tilsen and Crystal Echo Hawk


Invisibility and harmful stereotypes are two of the biggest foundational challenges facing Indigenous people today. According to research conducted by The Reclaiming Native Truth Project nearly 80% of Americans know little to nothing about contemporary Native peoples. Many of the reasons for this widespread invisibility are systemic. The Project found that among all K – 12 schools in the United States, close to 90% do not teach about Native American life, history, or culture past the year 1900. Indigenous representation in popular culture and in the media are shockingly rare (between zero and 0.04%). And the few stories and images of Native peoples that are widely shared are typically problematic. This rampant invisibility and stereotyping has led to bias, racism, and neglect of Indigenous people and communities. The worlds of philanthropy and impact investing have not been immune. Less than .04% of philanthropic funding currently goes to Indigenous communities.

On a new episode of Money + Meaning, Lindsay Smalling talks with Crystal Echo Hawk and Nick Tilsen, two Indigenous leaders who were part of The Reclaiming Native Truth Project that are now leading organizations that are working to change the narrative and the status quo in order to help Indigenous communities thrive. Echo Hawk, a member of the Pawnee Nation, is Founder and CEO of IllumiNative, a nonprofit initiative with a mission to “fight the invisibility and stereotypes against native peoples and to really increase the visibility of contemporary native peoples and the incredible things that we have happening in our communities and our tribal nations today.” Tilsen, a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation, is Founder, President, and CEO of NDN Collective, an organization made up of several different entities including NDN Foundation– which is dedicated to moving philanthropy and is in the process of building a $50 million annual grant making fund dedicated for Indigenous people; The NDN Fund, an emerging Native Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that will move over $100 million in capital to regenerative projects in Indigenous communities; NDN Action, an organizing and advocacy arm dedicated to moving policy and supporting frontline activism work for the benefit of Indigenous communities and people; and NDN Partners, which is a for-profit arm wholly owned by their nonprofit.

Tilsen says in the episode that despite their awareness of the magnitude of the challenges they face, “We’re entering into this with our own power, (not) as victims. We’re coming into this knowing that we’re standing on the shoulders of giants–the generations that came before us and our ancestors. And so we come into this feeling that we are absolutely powerful. Just because the space hasn’t included Indigenous people like it should, it doesn’t mean that we’re not powerful. In fact, we feel that the world of philanthropy and impact investing has more to learn from us than for us to learn from it.” Listen to the full episode to hear more from Echo Hawk and Tilsen about their organizations and their efforts to bring about widespread narrative shift about Indigenous peoples, concrete examples that show why it is such an exciting time to make big investments and big impact in Indian country, and where they think their movements are headed in the future.


Featured Voices


Crystal Echo Hawk

Executive Director


Nick Tilsen

President and CEO

NDN Collective

Lindsay Smalling


Additional Resources

About Money + Meaning

Money + Meaning is the official podcast of SOCAP. This series aims to expand the conversation around impact investing and strategies to finance and support social change while stimulating innovative and valuable new partnerships across sectors.

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