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Tanka Bar's mix of bison and cranberry has origins in traditional Lakota culture and serves as a low-calorie alternative to other snack foods.
Tanka Bar's mix of bison and cranberry has origins in traditional Lakota culture and serves as a low-calorie alternative to other snack foods.

Wasna for a New Generation

If you spot Tiger Woods snacking as he walks down a golf course fairway, watch the television closely for a bright yellow and red wrapper. Professional golfers are getting on the Tanka Bar bandwagon. Golf Digest recently named the food one of the best nutrition bars available for golfers, heaping even more adulation on the already popular snack produced on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Of course when Mark Tilsen and Karlene Hunter created Native American Natural Foods in 2005, neither thought of marketing their products to professional athletes. They simply wanted to help their own people. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health says nearly 33 percent of all American Indians and Alaska Native are obese, and 16.1 percent suffer from Type II diabetes. “Every one of us are in there fighting and working toward the same purpose,” Hunter says. “We’re looking at creating a healthy environment for our people.”

They believe Tanka Bars can help. The 1-ounce bars of ground bison and tart cranberries contain just 70 calories. They’re healthier than beef and help sustain Lakota culture. Tanka Bars are modeled after a traditional mixture of meat and berries called wasna, meaning “all mixed up.”

Tilsen and Hunter started producing Tanka Bars with four employees at the company’s headquarters in Kyle. Today 16 people work on various Tanka products including Tanka Dogs, Tanka Bites and Tanka Wild, a derivation of the buffalo and cranberry bar that includes wild rice.

Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the September/October 2012 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.

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