Taryn Allen | Clarion

On Jan. 25, Nick Tilsen, citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation, gave the keynote speech during the lunch of the first day of DU’s 2018 Diversity Summit. The speaker came to talk on issues related to the summit’s focus, which was on the intersections of social justice and sustainability.

In the opening of his speech, Tilsen explained that this organization was started through spirituality and through a challenge from his ancestors that asks, “When are you going to make a way for your people? Are you not warriors? It’s time to stop talking and start doing.” Since that message was shared with him from his ancestors during ceremony, he has made making change in his community his duty.

He told of his plan to create a $60 million sustainable community on Pine Ridge that builds homes, creates jobs and produces all of its own energy, clean water and food. He also told of the barriers he has faced in order to begin this project, and how he overcame them. The organization broke ground on the land two years ago, and has since then raised $12 million in investments. He said that one of the main reasons for creating this community was to create a call for action worldwide. He said that he always tells people, “If this can happen on Pine Ridge, one of the poorest communities in the world, then what is everybody else’s excuse?”

Tilsen ended the speech by saying that the decisions that humanity makes right now are going to decide where the world is going to be 100 years from now. He said, “We know where we have come from, so I ask ourselves to think about that… Where we are going, and where we are heading. And my hope and belief, especially from what I’ve seen on Pine Ridge, is everybody is a changemaker. Social change is not an act of spontaneous combustion, but you must light yourself on fire. What is the thing that lights yourself on fire? I’ve found what it is for me, and I encourage you to find what it is for you.”

Tilsen is the founding executive director of Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation — an organization that is working with local people and national organizations in the development of a sustainable regenerative community, that creates jobs, builds homes and creates new opportunity on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Since 2013, he has served as a local point of contact for President Obama’s Ladders of Opportunity Initiative, working to make targeted investments into America’s poorest communities. He currently sits on the boards of the Indigenous Peoples Power Project, the Water Protector Legal Collective and helped with on the ground organizing in the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock.

You can find more information about Tilsen and his organization here.