Rachel Lindvall has been educating the community on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation for the past 28 years, first as a library director for the tribal college and currently as the Community Development Field Specialist for the South Dakota State University extension program. The program has been in effect on the Reservation since 1991, but its focus has changed over the years from primarily agriculture to meet broader financial needs.
Rachel works with a team of two other colleagues – a Youth Programming Advisor and a Nutrition Assistant – to offer financial literacy education to tribal college students, interested community members and individuals receiving state and federal assistance benefits on the Reservation.
In 2011, Rachel began presenting an extension program called "Save Wisely, Spend Smart" to a group of young adults receiving benefits from the Department of Social Services under Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). Designed for an audience of low to middle-income individuals, the program taught lessons about budgeting and credit. However, some of the lessons were not relevant to those living on the Reservation, who are among the poorest in the country.
"According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, residents of the Rosebud Reservation have one of the highest generational unemployment rates at 75%. For many, scraping by is just a way of life," she says. Rachel customized the curriculum to include discussions about needs versus wants, long and short-term financial goals, more information about credit and applicable lessons like how to save money at the grocery store. Each session lasts six weeks; to date, there have been five full sessions with 12-16 participants. Some of the topics taught have been separated into sessions of their own. For example, interested individuals can take a workshop to learn how to stretch their food dollars by cooking from scratch, shopping on a budget and supplementing food stamps. This session will soon be available for high school and middle school students at the Reservation.
The financial literacy classes offered on the Rosebud Reservation are available in a number of ways. Some students are placed in classes by their caseworkers to discuss work force skills. Other classes are offered via partnerships with the Department of Social Services, tribal college, tribal programs and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Most classes are delivered in workshop format and are kept small so they can be more hands-on. Among the financial literacy topics, lessons on credit have consistently been deemed most valuable.
One of Rachel's main focuses is economic development. "I strongly believe that without economic development, financial literacy will only take us part of the way," she explains. Rachel participated in two programs to learn more about how to improve the Reservation's economic development. "Indianpreneurship" addressed qualitative and quantitative factors of becoming a business owner and "Workin' with Tradition" was adapted for a Native American audience and deals primarily with workforce development skills and handling unfamiliar challenges of being in the workforce. Rachel is committed to enhancing her own education to improve the financial literacy education programs on the Reservation.
The greatest challenge Rachel has encountered in her work is proper funding. "The budget for our program is based on a competitive federal grant," she says. "It took a big hit this grant cycle and we lost 15-20%." It's also sometimes difficult to get people to attend the workshops. "When people don't have money, they don't want to learn about budgeting." Rachel hopes that as a result of her efforts, people are saving money by avoiding the high costs of prepared food, and that they are empowered when searching for a job.
Rachel's personal financial decisions started at an early age. "I learned about managing money well from my parents. Staying out of debt was a family value," says Rachel. "It's a family affair." One of her and her husband's priorities was to get their two boys through college without debt, which they have done successfully. She has also taken full advantage of her employer's retirement fund benefits and is always looking for ways to save and economize for the future.
Practical Money Skills would like to commend Rachel Lindvall for her ongoing efforts and commitment to financial literacy on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation in Mission, SD.