The field for professional women photographers expanded substantially within the last century. Now, Native women are proving they are just as prolific and skillful as today’s top photographers across the world. We chat with Lakota photographer Dawnee Lebeau about how and why she uses photography as another way to preserve culture.

Dawnee Lebeau is a self-taught photographer, without ever attending a photography class. Instead, she built up her experience and learned techniques by shadowing professional photographers. With the help of Four Bands Community Fund and First People’s Fund, Lebeau was able to successfully launch her photography business on the Cheyenne River reservation in South Dakota. Lebeau is known for volunteering her services to several projects throughout the state, including the Cheyenne River Youth Project’s annual Fashion for Passion event and Lakota Elderly Speakers photography project.

When did you first get into photography? When did you start taking it seriously?
I was gifted my first Nikon N90s film camera in 1997 and this is when I learned how to develop my own photographs in a dark room and I’ve enjoyed being a freelance photographer ever since then.

Do you feel Native women photographers are constantly overlooked?
The Native women photographers that I know of seem to be doing well in their photography endeavors. I see their photography work and projects’ being posted on social media sites a lot and this is definitely inspiring.

How do you capture Native beauty in your photography?
Native beauty to me is a lifestyle of how a person or group preserves their cultural values and traditions while living in today’s society. Seeing Natives take pride in their traditions, learning their languages and preserving what their elders have passed on to them is beautiful. I feel that I’ve captured photographs of many beautiful people from my reservation, whether it’s in lifestyle portraits, family portraits, and senior portraits or in photographs that I have captured at community events.

Dawnee Lebeau was originally featured in the Native Women’s’ Issue. Purchase your copy here.

[Featured photo by Deanne Billings]