Kimberly is one of our Trailblazers and is developing a leadership institute for women and girls in western South Dakota.

City/Town: Rapid City

State/Province: South Dakota

Who is your community? This may be a group of friends, organization of affinity or a geographic location.

I am a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Tribe. I would say my community is Western South Dakota, which encompasses both my home reservation of Pine Ridge as well as where I reside in Rapid City. I would also say I am a part of the entrepreneurial community.

Give us a behind-the-scenes look at your average day.

I wake up at 6:00 am and practice yoga for about 30 minutes. Then wake up my children and prepare them for the day and send them off to school or their activities. Check my email, and follow up with clients. My clients vary widely. On any given day, I am organizing a culturally relevant special event, preparing for a Strategic Action Planning Session for a Tribal Nation of the Northern Plains, prepping for value-based professional development training for an organization, or working with a local entrepreneur on the development of their business. At noon, I swim for an hour. Then go back to work. Later, I pick up my children and we prepare dinner together. In the evenings, we typically participate in a Lakota ceremony, community gathering or just hang at the park. After, I prepare them for bed. I do one last check through my inbox to ensure I did not overlook one detail of the day and prep for the coming day ahead.

What challenge in your life or work are you most interested in overcoming?

Balancing my value-based work in my traditional Lakota community and mainstreaming my business for a consistent income.

If you could do any job, what would you do and why?

I would like to be a chef. Cooking is the one aspect of my life that provides me complete relaxation and joy. I love the flexibility, creativity and boundless possibilities when it comes to cooking and prepping meals. I enjoy making something that is both beautiful and nutritious.

What is the most beneficial aspect of living in the OTA region when it comes to your career?

I love living in South Dakota. It gives me the ability to raise my children in both their Lakota culture as well as mainstream culture. They know where their people come from, they know our history and our connection to this land. We – my family and I – have the ability to participate in our ceremonies as well as experience urban culture.

Where do you think good ideas come from?

I think good ideas come out of challenges – where we have the ability to really problem-solve by utilizing our creativity and innovation.

What’s one current trend you think will change the world?

I think green sustainable community development will change the world.

What’s the best way to put inspiration into action?

Make a commitment to action, create a plan to follow, tell someone about your inspiration so you become accountable, follow your steps, evaluate and Make It Happen!

What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken?

I was living in Atlanta, working for the Indigo Girls. We were doing a tour of several reservations and we came home to mine. I could see the shock in their face by all the poverty when we hit the reservation line. They were moved to tears. It was the first time I had seen where I come from, from someone else’s perspective. It was then I realized and thought, “I have all this opportunity and skills to help my people.”

Why am I not living here and helping to reduce poverty, changing my own community for the better? When the tour ended, I packed up my Audi A6, rented my loft in midtown Atlanta, packed up my little dog and hit the road to my reservation. I moved without a plan, only with my intentional heart of wanting to change the economy for my people for the better.

What’s your biggest failure, and what did you learn from it?

When I first started my business, I think it was a failure. I help other people prepare for financing of their business by creating a business plan. I was just flying by the seat of my pants without creating a plan, a cash flow plan, or a marketing plan. I was really struggling. So much so, I almost gave up on the idea of running my own business. So I sat down with my father, reviewed what I really wanted for my business. Wrote a business plan, created a marketing plan, and evaluated it with my father. I learned that just because you begin with one intention does not mean that will be the outcome; you must be flexible but you have to follow a plan to remain accountable to yourself.

Who do you hope to leave a legacy for?

I want my legacy to be sharing with others my “Making it Happen” mentality. I want people to remember that when I said I was going to do something, I did it. I am driven by positive action and I do it with a smile.

Who is the most connected person in your life, and what personal characteristics make him or her so well-connected?

I would say Heather Dawn Thompson. She is an attorney. She is very friendly, positive, professional and always remembering people and how other people connect to each other.

Who is the most creative person in your life, and why?

My father Mark Tilsen. When he saw problems such as food deserts and high diabetes rate among Native Americans, he thought: “How did the Lakota people survive traditionally?” It was then he did research on ancestral recipes and created the Tanka Bar. He is an incredible innovator and risk taker.

Who is the most community-focused person in your life, and how do they impact their communities?

My brother Nick Tilsen. When he began the development of The Thunder Valley community, it wasn’t just his dream that was driving the project. It was his connection to the people, the elders, children and single moms. He really listened to them, utilized their ideas and stayed committed to seeing their vision come to life through the development of this community. This will be a huge impact on our entire community. They are building a green suitable community, built by young Lakota people that are given a purpose as well as professional training, creating first time homeowners with affordable housing, and preparing them through financial literacy. The impact will be long lasting for generations to come.

What makes you a Trailblazer?

I think I am Trailblazer because I bring an intentional, positive energy that bridges cultural barriers. I have the ability to see the broader picture, but creating movement for change. I am flexible, innovative and a hard worker.

What project do you plan to focus on as part of the Trailblazers program?

I am in the process of developing a Leadership Institute for women and girls. During their fellowship, we will work on: self-confidence, goal setting, public speaking, travel opportunity, leveraging local resources to expand their horizons as well as teaching them to become a network weaver.

What change / advancement do you hope to achieve as part of the Trailblazers program?

I would like to see the reduction of suicide of our young women in the state of South Dakota. I think by implementing my fellowship institute, we will have the ability to give young women the opportunity to grow exceptionally with a support system that helps their voices be heard and them to be seen.


The Trailblazers program is sponsored by Midco®, the regional provider of business and residential internet and networking, cable TV, phone and commercial IT services.