Return on Inclusion | July 8, 2024

Lending to Native-led producers gives Akiptan an edge in regenerative agriculture (podcast)

Jessica Pothering, David Bank and Isaac Silk
ImpactAlpha Editor

Jessica Pothering

ImpactAlpha Editor

David Bank

ImpactAlpha Editor

Isaac Silk

Indigenous lenders and investors are demonstrating new ways of doing business, shaped by and tailored to Indigenous communities themselves. Akiptan, a Native community development financial institution on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in Eagle Butte, SD has loaned more than $27 million to businesses and producers in nearly 30 tribal communities.

“Native agriculture is regenerative by nature,” says Skya Ducheneaux, who grew up on a cattle ranch on the reservation and now leads Akiptan. “There is something born and ingrained in all of our producers that if you take care of the land, the land is going to take care of you. It’s the norm, and it’s the expectation.”

That’s a mechanism for value-creation in a context where commercial agriculture and factory farming account for 17% of global carbon emissions and contribute to degradation of land, soil and water, labor exploitation and, not coincidentally, land theft from Indigenous communities. It’s business and finance as usual that presents the real risk, Ducheneaux says.

“Extractive financing leads to extractive practices, and that leads to poor quality of life, stressed cash flows, and depleted resources,” she says. 

By and for Native growers

Akiptan was started by the Intertribal Agriculture Council, a nearly 40-year-old organization that connects Native-run farms and producers to business resources. The organization observed “a huge gap and frustration with traditional capital in Native agriculture,” Ducheneaux tells ImpactAlpha on the Agents of Impact podcast. “IAC turned the frustrations into a CDFI built by Native producers for Native producers.”

In Bend, Ore., Sakari Farms, an Inupiaq tribal producer, grows and sells traditional foods, teas and spices, and teaches farming methods to community members.

Ducheneaux spoke with ImpactAlpha’s David Bank on the sidelines of the Common Ground Summit on regenerative agriculture in Kauai, Hawaii last year.


Even as a Native-led CDFI, Akiptan has confronted the innate distrust that many Native growers and producers feel toward lenders after centuries of predation and exclusion (see, “Mobilizing capital in Indian Country“).

“We are very intentional about our relationship building,” Ducheneaux says. “We beat down those walls until we are friends with everybody. We know who has a senior graduating high school or a sick elderly grandmother.”

She adds, “The thing I’m probably most proud of is that we take clients from traditional financial institutions all the time. [Our clients] are like ‘Can you refinance my debt?’ No one has ever refinanced our debt, no one has ever taken one of our clients.” 

Catalytic capital

Native investors and intermediaries are demonstrating patient capital and deal-making to support businesses and community resilience.

Navajo Power on the Navajo Nation, for example, is cutting tribal communities into profits for renewable energy projects built on their lands.

Raven Group’s Indigenous Outcomes Fund puts Indigenous communities in charge of designing social and climate programs for their benefit.

Siċaŋġu Co. is blending finance to restore a buffalo herd on the Rosebud Sioux tribal lands in South Dakota.

Ducheneaux says its patient lending approach had led to a default rate of nearly zero. “There’s a risk in not doing financing how we’re doing it, in not doing it regeneratively.”