NDN Collective 3rd annual Backpack Giveaway

Bounce house and slide at NDN Collective’s 3rd Annual Backpack Giveaway. (Photo by Estella Claymore)

RAPID CITY—Back to School Bash? Backpack Giveaway? Why not both!? This was the attitude at this year’s 3rd annual NDN Collective Backpack Giveaway that was held on Saturday, September 10, 2022, inside the Rapid Skillz building across from the Central States Fairgrounds in Rapid City.

This year, NDN Collective provided around 600 backpacks filled with school supplies for students from kindergarten to 12th grade. Each student and their parent registered at the front door, then proceeded to their backpack station with their grade on it to receive their grade appropriate pack with school supplies. NDN Collective also provided a logo t-shirt and hoodie to every student and their parent. This year was more of a family event where a sit-down meal was provided along with events for the children.

“We have about 600 backpacks to give away today,” said Nick Tilsen, President and CEO of NDN Collective. “When it’s time to go back to school, many parents stress out about getting everything that they need for their kids. The backpack, the big school supply list that you get, all of those things, and so being able to take some of that pressure off the parents and give the kids some really good supplies is what we are all about.”

According to NDN Collective Facebook event page, NDN Collective first started the backpack giveaway in 2020 as a way to give back to the community and provide assistance in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. The backpack giveaway had a great turnout and has grown each year to become one of the most anticipated events for children and families in the area.

Nick Tilsen, President and CEO of NDN Collective gives an interview at the 3rd Annual Backpack Giveaway at Rapid Skillz (Photo by Estella Claymore)

“NDN Collective used to have an office down on Main Street,” Tilsen said.” And this all started because people walked in the door and said, ‘Hey, I need some help with school supplies,’ and we would say, ‘Oh, we don’t have anything,’ and that got us thinking, ‘Hey, let’s respond to the need in the community,’ because NDN Collective does a lot of things in the community. There are more than 500 Native families that are in the school system in Rapid City and so we were like, ‘Hey, let’s do something’ and it just kind of grew each year.”

Also available at the event was open enrollment for the Oceti Sakowin Community Academy Kindergarten class students from the 2023-2024 school year. Founder Mary Bowman was on site to provide comments on this 3rd annual event.

“We are registering for our next class of kindergarteners for the 2023-2024 school year. (Our school) is privately funded through NDN Collective and the South Dakota Education Equity Coalition (SDEEC) which I am a board member of and we try to get legislation passed to fund charter schools in South Dakota. In the meantime, we are heavily funded in our first year by NDN Collective and we did get a grant from NISN (NACA Inspired Schools Network). So, we’re starting with kindergarten and we’re adding a grade each year. Eventually, we will be K-12 with 520 students.”

According to NDNCollective.org, on Wednesday, September 7, NDN Collective officially opened Oceti Sakowin Community Academy, the first Indigenous-led school designed specifically for students in the Mni Luzahan (Rapid City) area. Funded and built by NDN Collective, in partnership with NACA Inspired Schools Network (NISN), the school will serve 40 kindergarten students in the first year. Each year, the school will add the next grade level to continue educating its original students while also bringing in new students from an early age.

The school aims to close the opportunity gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students that has gone unaddressed for decades. Indigenous students in South Dakota are among the lowest in terms of graduation, achievement, and mobility rates, and are allegedly disproportionately and more harshly disciplined in schools than their non-Indigenous peers.

The school’s curriculum will attempt to connect Indigenous youth to their cultures, languages, ancestral knowledge, history, and traditional ways of life; critical culture-based educational components which are not currently available to urban Indigenous Rapid City students.

NDN Collective is an Indigenous-led organization dedicated to building Indigenous power. Through organizing, activism, philanthropy, grant-making, capacity-building, and narrative change, they say they are creating sustainable solutions on Indigenous terms.

“Were starting to do community development in the north area of Rapid City,” Tilsen says. “We bought some land out there so we’re going to start doing some community development in affordable housing, places for small businesses, and just trying to tackle the housing challenges that we have. We also do a lot of advocacies trying to confront racism and oppression in our communities. We helped organize a lot of the protests around the Grand Gateway Hotel and we took the lead on the lawsuit. So, we’re really doing a lot of things in the community.”

To learn more about NDN Collective and the Oceti Sakowin Community Academy, please visit ndncollective.org.

(Contact Estella Claymore at estella.claymore@gmail.com)

The post NDN Collective 3rd annual Backpack Giveaway first appeared on Native Sun News Today.

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