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Black Hills State University

Kim Tilsen-Brave Heart has helped launch over 187 small businesses across the country, but it was launching her own business two years ago that helped her family find its way out of crisis. Tilsen-Brave Heart will share her story April 11 in Spearfish as part of American Indian Awareness Week at Black Hills State University.

An enrolled citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation, Tilsen-Brave Heart operates Painted Skye Management and is the Executive Chef for Et-i-quette Catering, which has a private dining room in Rapid City and specializes in indigenous cooking.

“Two years ago my husband had a grand mal seizure. He was not allowed to be alone, work, drive, or exercise. We had two children and a one-month-old baby. At the time we had no idea what our future would hold,” says Tilsen-Brave Heart.

She says she could see her husband becoming more depressed as the emotions and physical limitations of the seizure took hold. To push through their situation, the couple discussed what drove them and what they loved in their life.

“We both love cooking, and we love cooking together,” says Tilsen-Brave Heart. “We decided to create a catering company.”

After working in small business development in Indian Country for the past 14 years, Tilsen-Brave Heart knew the process of writing a business plan and obtaining financing. But, Tilsen-Brave Heart says going through the startup process herself was a completely different experience.

“I actually always wanted to be a chef, but was detoured from this career path — being told it was a hard job,” says Tilsen-Brave Heart.

In her talk at Black Hills State University, Tilsen-Brave Heart will focus on “Indigenous Entrepreneurship.” She says she wants Native people to “be whoever they want to be” and not get boxed into certain career fields.

Tilsen-Brave Heart’s husband is doing well now, going back to school and works part-time for their company. Everyday Kim says she is excited for what the day will bring as she looks forward to new projects.

“In our company, food isn’t an afterthought — it’s the centerpiece of the special event,” says Tilsen-Brave Heart. “We appreciate that people are willing to hear our cultural teachings about food through this new and fun experience.”

Tilsen-Brave Heart will present Thursday, April 11 from 11 a.m.–12:15 p.m. in Jonas Hall 102 on the Black Hills State University campus. All American Indian Awareness Week events April 8–12 are open to the public. See the full schedule of speakers and information about the 36th Annual Wacipi (Pow Wow) at

Hear more about Tilsen-Brave Heart’s story in her TEDx talk below.

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