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Meet our Staff: Dawn E. LeBeau, Program Officer

Updated: Apr 27, 2023

Akiptan is proud to bring you the team of people who are helping to make a change in Indian Ag Finance. This month we are highlighting one of our Program Officer's, Dawn E. LeBeau.


Dawn E. “Dawnee” LeBeau is a member of the Oóhenuŋpa Itázipačola Tetoŋwaŋ bands of the Lakota Nation. She resides on the Cheyenne River Lakota Nation in South Dakota with her two wakanyeja (children) and family. She has been with the Akiptan team as the Program Officer since June of 2021. Her role is to lead the development of Akiptan’s programs, while working intricately with the Executive Director to manage and expand the services and programs that Akiptan offers.

Dawn is passionate about visual storytelling (photography), gardening, and plant relatives; and her work supports the amplification of indigenous Lakota wellness, Lakota language, and Lakota cultural values. Dawn holds a Bachelors of Arts degree in Social Science. She has served as a fellow with the First Peoples Fund for the Artist in Business Leadership and Cultural Capital Fellowships; the 2019-2020 South Dakota Change Network; the 2020-21Creative Community Leadership Institute; and as a 2021-22 fellow with Native Arts and Culture Foundation. Dawn has also served as a mentee with the Seed Seva Mentorship and the Native Food and Culinary Mentorship. She is currently a Master Gardener and Home Horticulture member with the SDSU Extension Master Gardener Program.


How did you begin in the Native Ag Lending Industry?


I began working at Akiptan in 2021 as a program officer. My role is to develop, coordinate and report on the programs and services that we develop for our clients. I am able to work with partners to provide informational webinars, create curriculums and manage the marketing/public relations presence. My introduction to Native agriculture began when I was little, my family had a garden, we harvested indigenous plants and foods throughout my life, my dad raised cattle and my family has supported him by assisting as needed. I am a mother to two wonderful children and am also a photographer.


What is your favorite part of working at Akiptan?


I have numerous favorite components in my role at Akiptan. The highlight of working at Akiptan is seeing the producers succeed and build their financial understandings. The more education that our Native communities have to thrive in our native food economies, the healthier the next generation will be. I am also blessed to work with a team who help one another to understand the CDFI and Native Ag industry. We are constantly learning and leaning on each other to grow our knowledge to help our clients and the Native ag industry.


What do you think makes Akiptan Important/Unique?


Akiptan is unique and important because the work is specific to meeting the financial and educational needs of those working to improve the Native Agriculture communities. The technical assistance that the loan officers provide has been proven to be beneficial to our clients. The support helps the producers to stay within their short and long term goals, which helps them to be successful in the long run in their operation. Our monthly webinars seem to have been beneficial to producers as well, we do our best to get them the information they need to be a knowledgeable borrower and to prepare their operation for the future. We also believe that supporting youth in Native Agriculture industry is highly important. We offer our Okhichanye (Oh-Key-Chan-Ye, which is the Lakota word for cultivation) scholarship for Native American high school students graduating with the goal of gaining higher education to eventually work in the Native Agriculture Industry. We are in our second year of hosting internships with partners who work in the Native Agriculture industry across Indian Country. The interns learn about resume building, financial literacy, and business plan development while gaining hands-on experience at the partner organizations that we work with.


How has your passion for assisting those in Native Agriculture financing developed?


My passion has increased since working here at Akiptan, developing programs that get important business information to producers is highly important to our team and we are continuously working towards building accessible programs for those working in the Native ag industry.


What are some of the successes and programs that you have built while at Akiptan as a Program Officer.


Since working with the team at Akiptan, I have been able to deepen my understanding of Native agriculture and share knowledge about the importance of financial literacy. A lot of the work here is team driven and I'm thankful to work with a group that is willing to offer feedback and critique to the programs, campaigns and materials that we create. I have also been able to build partnerships with Native Ag leaders and organizations across the country, which makes the Native ag industry even stronger. I have been able to acquire team development training, professional development enhancement training, assist in creating our strategic plan, create our summer internship program in 2022, manage our Okhíčhaŋye scholarship program and promote it for its second year, build a communications plan with our team, sharpen my understanding of key components of business plan development, cash flow sheets, balance sheets and operation projections. I assisted in the development of our Financial Management Guide for Cattle Ranchers, and our upcoming Youth Financial Literacy Guide. Within these, we included supplemental promotional resources like videos and games. We were able to complete a Market Study in 2022 and promoted those results on our website and across our social media channels. We will continue to build programs that help our clients and I’m inspired to be a part of a team that have the organizational values to do this work together.


What are your goals for the next few months or years in your role as program officer?


Within the next few months, I will be closing out our Okhíčhaŋye scholarship and disbursing funds to the awardees, partnering with Native agriculture organizations for our summer internships, offering webinars that will help our producers with their operations and promoting the mission of Akiptan, which is to to transform Native Agriculture and food economies by delivering creative capital, leading paradigm changes, and enhancing producer prosperity across Indian Country. I am also looking forward to meeting the objectives of the 2022 Market Study find, thanks to the feedback from the participants, we will be able to build even more innovative solutions. We will be able to share knowledge, add more programs, create webinars and documents for succession planning, help to promote climate smart and conservation practices, and invite more youth to our youth programs.


What would you say about the Akiptan team you work with?


I am extremely proud of the team that I work with. Each of my colleagues bring their expertise, creative thinking and solutions to the table for our clients. The majority of our team have hands-on experience of what it means to create solutions to the challenges that Native producers face, because they grew up or are currently working on an agriculture operation. They are willing to find solutions, to ask hard questions and to build off of our organization's internal team values which includes; integrity, ethics, accountability, challenging one another in a healthy creative way, honoring indigenous lifeways by being socially, economically and financially responsible, showing empathy and unity with one another.

I’m honored to be a part of a team that is willing to find the answers, connect producers with experts, and who are helping to create knowledgeable borrowers for the future of Native ag operations across Indian Country."

What is one thing you would like people to know about your job?


One thing that I'd like folks to know about in my role as a program officer is that there are many moving pieces and that I’m thankful to be able to rely on those who have years of experience in the Native agriculture and Native CDFI industry. When I have challenges, I’m able to find solutions thanks to our team. The development of programs for our clients means that we need to have a good understanding of what the need is, what the loan process looks like, and what it could look like. Because we serve clients nationwide, we also need to make certain that producers needing capital within the Native agriculture industry from every region have access to our products and services. Communication is also key in this role because there are a lot of moving parts, which includes our audience, clients and the team here at Akiptan. Learning styles vary and folks access information in different ways, whether that is online or through physical documents, we need to be able to meet folks where they’re at and make sure they have access to the information. I am glad to see Akiptan’s success and I’m grateful to be a part of a solution in Native Agriculture lending.


Learn more about our programs and financing here: https://www.akiptan.org/loanproducts


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