Along with being a mother, natural-light photographer Dawnee LeBeau recently launched Kikta’, an eco-friendly business she created with the goal “to promote conscious living through information and products that have a low impact on unc’i maka/mother earth.”
Kikta’, said Dawnee, translates to wake up or to be awakened in the Lakota language, and perfectly represents her line of products which are either handmade or produced with fellow indigenous-owned businesses.
“I create reusable totes, bento bags, beeswax wraps, coffee filters, watec’a bowls, napkins and other reusable items. With the guidance of my elders, I respectfully connect our Lakota virtues, Lakota language and cultural ways to raising awareness to the importance of decreasing our carbon footprint,” said Dawnee.
Inspiration for Kikta’ came from her loved ones, said Dawnee, who explained that at a young age, she was taught different DIY projects and shown the importance of reusing kitchen items.
“My unc’i [grandmother] Ruby Red Dog and my ina’ [mother] Sylvia Picotte both taught me how to sew and my ina’ shared recipes with me to make soaps, face washes, face masks, laundry soaps and other creative recipes for household products.”
Dawnee said she was also inspired by Carla Marshall, of the Watec’a Challenge, while attending an event and was “influenced by her work of homemade watec’a kits, beeswax wraps and historical indigenous information packets that she created.”
Operating businesses in a rural area can be challenging, but Dawnee has approached marketing with a unique perspective. Not only does she market online through her website and social media, she believes that being herself plays a huge role in her businesses.
“I believe that I am representing my brand at all times and that my cultural values play an immense role in how I communicate with every person I collaborate with. Personal development and continuous learning are a very important process in marketing and in photography. As for Kikta’, I believe that online marketing can be a challenge, it requires being active online at various times to monitor my content and to engage with customers. Thankfully, there are a range of resources available to assist with sales and to engage with clients effectively when I am away from the computer,” said Dawnee.
So far, Kikta’ has received great reviews with orders for products from as far away as Washington State, Nebraska and Utah. Dawnee said she will be partnering with Racing Magpie, a creative art gallery in Rapid City, to sell her Unc’i Maka Wao’hola reusable tote merchandise.
Preserving the Lakota way of life is evident in the projects Dawnee has been working on through her photography business.
“I have been working with women in the community on a project named Women of the Tetonwan, which highlights the women from the Wakpa Was’te’ community and represents who we are, indigenous women,” said Dawnee.
In addition, she is photographing Wakpa Was’te’ Lakota language speakers, in the hopes that others will be influenced to continue speaking and learning the language.
“Our cultural values of respecting Unc’i Maka, our Lakota language and its deep meaning, inspires me to a great degree in this small business venture,” she said.