“A lot of people believe that the buffalo have returned in order to help heal the people because they are dependent on each other. So now that the people have helped restore the buffalo, the buffalo are going to help restore the people. It may sound like a romantic theory but it’s real economics.”

– Mark Tilsen, President, Native American Natural Foods

Left to right: Sound Recordist Judy Karp; Mark A. Tilsen, president of Native American Natural Foods; Local fixer Larry Pourier; Director Gini Reticker; Cinematographer Kirsten Johnson

Left to right: Sound Recordist Judy Karp; Mark A. Tilsen, president of Native American Natural Foods; Field Producer Larry Pourier; Director Gini Reticker; Cinematographer Kirsten Johnson


In the face of a powerful recession, crippling unemployment and a housing crisis, a small, creative and energetic band of Native American businesspeople, with the help of the buffalo, rebuild their community through a growing business, Native American Natural Foods, the company behind Tanka energy bars. Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Gini Reticker weaves together beautiful imagery set to the pulse of the Sioux Nation to carefully tell the story of two entrepreneurs who use tradition and ingenuity to bring opportunity and hope to the people on the Pine Ridge Reservation. After nearly going extinct, the buffalo has returned, bringing a chance for prosperity to the Lakota people.


Gini Reticker | credit: Guido Venitucci Photography

Gini Reticker | credit: Guido Venitucci Photography

  Years ago I was fortunate to get to know a number of the founding members of KILI Radio Station on the Pine Ridge Reservation, the first Native American owned and controlled radio station in the United States. They were part of a committed group of activists that knew that the solution to their community’s problems would come from within, that there was no guy riding in on a white horse to save the day. They were dedicated to being part of that solution. Over the years, their activities have grown and diversified. I’ve watched with dismay the usual media reports about life on Pine Ridge that focused solely on the poverty that has plagued this isolated reservation since inception — problems that stem from an economy designed to function on government rations. Few reports have focused on the inspiring, and growing number of stories of the social entrepreneurs who have seized on overlooked opportunities to create a long-term sustainable economy. Buffalo Returns demonstrates how the Lakota people’s belief that the resurgence of the buffalo will help restore their community is proving to be much more than a romantic idea.


Tribeca® Digital Studios and American Express co-produced a series of three short films (Buffalo Returns, A Dream Preferred, and The Downtown Project) that celebrate small businesses and the creators at the forefront of the entrepreneurial renaissance. Academy Award®-nominated filmmakers Gini Reticker (Pray the Devil Back to Hell), Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) and Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady (Jesus Camp) have brought stories to life that explore the nature, shifts, and struggles of young business development; the pioneers, inventors, and dreamers at the helm of these ambitions; and the impact these ventures have on their communities. The films will debut on July 15  on a host of cable on-demand platforms in over 40 million homes including Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, Cablevision, Cox and Brighthouse, Vimeo, interactive smart TV app American Express NOW, the American Express YouTube Channel, and American Express OPEN Forum, an online community for small businesses to inspire and help them grow.

About the small business featured in BUFFALO RETURNS

Founded in 2006 on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Native American Natural Foods owners Karlene Hunter and Mark Tilsen imagine a world filled with healthy foods that add to the restoration and preservation of our lands and ecosystem — a world without the pain of starvation or obesity. The world they imagine embraces the lifestyle that Native American people lived just over a century ago.  
Tanka Bar

Their Tanka Bar is a low fat, gluten free energy snack made from prairie-fed buffalo meat and cranberries.

  “Tanka” is used in reference to delivering your best with all your heart, mind, body and spirit. It is the choices that you make and the actions that you take to be who you are. Whether you’re Native, white, black, yellow or brown, it is your ability to overcome, to extend a helping hand for those in need, to defeat racism, to protect our Mother Earth, and to love all others on our planet. It is your ability to Live Life Powerfully and to acknowledge “Mitakuye Oyasin” — we are all related. Learn more about Native American Natural Foods at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and the Tanka Bar:

Official Website | Facebook| Twitter

Check out the other two shorts in the series co-produced by Tribeca® Digital Studios and American Express: A DREAM PREFERRED, directed by Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing about the Taharka Brothers, purveyors of ice cream and social change in Baltimore whose future hinges on a crowdfunding campaign to launch a “Food for Thought” ice cream truck, a literal vehicle for change. WATCH A DREAM PREFERRED THE DOWNTOWN PROJECT, directed by Morgan Spurlock about a local initiative known as The Downtown Project in Vegas which provides training, invests in inspiration and partners with small businesses to make dreams happen and bring a community out of the shadows. WATCH THE DOWNTOWN PROJECT

Please note that A DREAM PREFERRED and THE DOWNTOWN PROJECT are not Fork Films productions.