The “Native Business Top 50 Entrepreneurs” list serves to elevate awareness of the innovation, professionalism, competence and tenacity demonstrated by Native entrepreneurs across Indian Country. Native Business is rolling out profiles of these 50 Native entrepreneurs online, in no particular hierarchy, to document and memorialize their innovation and self-determination. The inaugural class of the Native Business Top 50 Entrepreneurs recognizes leaders across 13 business sectors, demonstrating the diversity of industries where Natives are making an impact. Among the entrepreneurs recognized in our Food sector is Karlene Hunter.
Karlene Hunter and her business partner Mark Tilsen founded Native American Natural Foods on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation more than 10 years ago. A member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Hunter previously founded Lakota Express (LEX), a full-service direct marketing company located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. She holds an MBA from Oglala Lakota College, and also counts decades of experience working on educational and economic development on the reservation.
In 2007, Native American Natural Foods debuted its first food product, the Tanka Bar. Today Native American Natural Foods’ products are sold at more than 8,000 retailers, including REI and Costco.
Based on traditional wasna and pemmican, the Tanka Bar combines high-protein, prairie-fed buffalo and tart-sweet cranberries. The lean meat has provided fuel to Lakota warriors for centuries. “Our runners used buffalo and berries when they would go out on hunts; they’d pack it in a buffalo horn,” Hunter, co-founder and CEO of Native American Natural Foods, told Native Business Magazine.