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Founders

About the Founders

Karlene Hunter, Co-Founder
Karlene Hunter is a co-founder of Native American Natural Foods. A member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Ms. Hunter has more than 25 years of experience working on educational and economic development on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where Native American Natural Foods is based. The Kyle, S.D., company, founded with her longtime business partner Mark Tilsen, is the second business Ms. Hunter has started on the reservation.

In 1996, Ms. Hunter and Mr. Tilsen created Lakota Express, a direct marketing and customer care management company. Focused primarily on fund-raising for non-profit organizations, Ms. Hunter has led the direct marketing campaign for Oglala Lakota College for more than 21 years. More than $25 million has been raised under Ms. Hunter's leadership, including raising the funds for the establishment of the first library on the reservation and the creation of new college centers in each of the nine districts on Pine Ridge.

Well-known throughout the Native American community for her local and national service record, Ms. Hunter serves on the Board of Directors of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development. She has also served on the Board of Directors for the Native American Rights Fund; the National Indian Business Association; and the Pine Ridge Area Chamber of Commerce.

Ms. Hunter, who holds an MBA from Oglala Lakota College, has received numerous awards, including the 2012 Vision Leadership Award from the Specialty Food Association, the 2011 Social Venture Network Innovation Award, the Natural Foods Industry's prestigious 2010 Cliff Adler 'Heart in Business' Award, and the 2007 SBA Small Business Woman of the Year for South Dakota. Recognized in 2003 as one of the 100 Best Minority Suppliers by the Minority Business Network, Ms. Hunter received the National Director's Pioneer Award in 2006 from then-Department of Commerce Secretary Ronald Langston. She has also been awarded the President Harry S. Truman Foundation Scholarship; Indian Business Woman of the Year from the National Indian Business Association; and the Rising Star Award from the Business Women's Network and Diversity Best Practices.


Mark A. Tilsen, Co-Founder
Mark Tilsen is co-founder of Native American Natural Foods and a longtime business partner with Karlene Hunter in Lakota Express, Inc., a direct marketing and customer care management company. Mr. Tilsen has more than 25 years of experience in nonprofit fundraising, marketing community development, and 18 years in special events marketing and productions.

A recipient of numerous marketing awards, most recently Mr. Tilsen received the 2016 Specialty Food Association Leadership Award for Citizenship and the 2011 Social Venture Network Innovation Award for his efforts with Native American Natural Foods.

A lifelong supporter of Native American causes, Mr. Tilsen began working as a volunteer in 1973 for the Wounded Knee Defense Offense Committee, which his parents co-founded. Since that time, he has honed his skills coordinating award-winning, database-driven direct marketing campaigns that have raised more than million for Native American educational and environmental organizations.

Mr. Tilsen has co-founded several successful community organizations and businesses, including:

  • KILI Radio, the largest indigenous community-owned radio station in North America.
  • The Black Hills Alliance. a coalition of Native and non-Native Americans that had a major impact on changing the environmental policies and practices in the Black Hills.
  • Direct Expressions, the company that launched the first direct marketing campaigns for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., and Oglala Lakota College.
  • Direct Events, now the largest independent music promotions group in Austin, Texas.
  • Manager of Indigenous, the first Native American musical group to have a Top 10 hit on radio since the '70s.
  • Lakotamall.com, a web portal providing Internet market access to small businesses and non-profit organizations serving Indian Country.
  • Lakota Express Inc., the only reservation-based Native American-owned direct marketing firm in the nation.
  • Maz, Inc., a talent management group based in Minnesota.