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Building success with support and determination

Kaia Hunter, a youth rancher from the Pine Ridge reservation, helps on her family's ranch and has goals of building her own herd for the future. With the support of her family and her youth loan with Akiptan, she is off to a great start. Kaia is excited about her goals and is proud to be a part of the Native agriculture industry. Program Officer, Dawn E. LeBeau, sat down to visit with Kaia Hunter and her mom Katie to visit about her ranching goals.


Kaia helps her dad on branding day. Photo submitted by Katie Hunter.


Please tell me a little about your history in ranching. 

I’m growing up around ranching. My Dad and Mom had started a small herd around the time I was born and we have been ranching together ever since. 


What is one memory about ranching that stands out the most to you? 

Caking cows in the winter is one of my favorite memories of ranching. We get our cake buckets, put them in the side by side, and then one or two people put the cake out while someone drives and Dad makes sure they fill the cake. My favorite part about ranching is branding season. We get to travel around helping all of our family, friends, neighbors vaccinate and brand their calves. I get to ride horses, work cows, eat good food, and hang out with my friends. 


Do you have a specific role that you are responsible for during your brandings? 

At brandings, I’m one of the calf wrestlers and I also help with the buckets and things. I want to be one of the ropers so I practice my roping skills a lot. I also participate in breakaway roping at youth rodeos, my horse is named Maggie, and I've had her for a while now. We help about 5 - 6 families every year and it’s great to be a part of the community. 


Mom Katie Hunter says, "being a part of the Native agriculture community means that we are that much closer to being more sovereign and moving towards taking care of our communities. And it's nice to see it being taken into our hands." 

What do you envision for your operation in the future? 

Every year I get to keep 1 or 2 heifers back to build my herd and I hope that in the future I will have a ranch of my own.


How was the loan application process for you with Akiptan overall? 

My experience of working with Akiptan has been inspiring. I felt confident and my mom helped me to fill out the paperwork. My mom has experience working with Akiptan and that was helpful. We would like to see the application process updated to be a little lighter so that youth can understand the process a little better. A video would be helpful to walk us through the process of applications, like a step-by-step video to help us understand it all. 


When we were filling out the application, there was a question to ask a sponsor to support you, and Kaia was excited to ask someone and she was thinking of who could be her sponsor/mentor, says mom Katie. Kaia had to choose someone who would vouch for her, so she chose Whitney. Whitney O'Rouke [Akiptan's loan officer and a woman rancher who has been ranching with her family since was a child as well]" So she had to call her and ask her to be her sponsor and when Whitney accepted the mentorship Kaia was very excited.  


What would you say to encourage other fellow ranchers who are considering purchasing cattle? 

I would be honest with them and tell them that it's a lot of work, but it's worth it and I would tell them to get started as early as possible.


"The most rewarding part of working on my family's ranch is seeing all the baby calves every year and this is how we know the hard work is paying off. It makes me proud to be a part of the Native food movement." says Kaia

To learn more about how Native youth can get financing through Akiptan, please visit our website at www.akiptan.org/youth



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