Plenty of cash was flowing at the 42nd Annual Indian National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nevada – and not just on the casino floor or in the South Point Equestrian Center, the scene of the world’s most competitive Native American rodeo. On November 8, 2017, 34 INFR Junior Tour qualifiers gathered for a captivating $pending Frenzy workshop. Each participant received $30,000 in play money and took a trial run at adulthood by shopping for food, insurance, housing and other necessities. As an added bonus, those who completed the $pending Frenzy received a real $100 bill. Cowboy up!
The event was led by People’s Partner for Community Development (PPCD), a nonprofit based in Lame Deer, Montana. PPCD is a community development financial institution that specializes in affordable financial services on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. Offering innovative financial education opportunities to Native youth is a big part of its mission.
“We’re proud to partner to bring the $pending Frenzy to INFR,” said Sharon Small, PPCD’s executive director. “This is the second year we’ve provided a youth financial workshop, and the program just keeps getting better.”
The $pending Frenzy is an interactive financial simulation created by First Nations Development Institute and Shawn Spruce Consulting. The workshop is built upon a cultural framework and draws from community volunteers who sell participants goods and services and assist them with tracking expenses. There’s also a tough-love element with haggling and hard selling aimed at steering the youth into poor decisions.
“The $pending Frenzy is an engaging way for young people to learn personal finance,” commented Peggy Fredericks, a community facilitator with PPCD and $pending Frenzy volunteer. “In the real world, businesses and salespeople won’t always have your best interest in mind. So touching on concepts like negotiation and behavioral economics add a sense of realism to the workshop.”
Other organizations that contributed to the success of the INFR $pending Frenzy included Chief Dull Knife College Extension Service, Indian National Finals Rodeo staff and competitors, and The Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (Uintah & Ouray, Colorado River, and Papago Agencies). Trina Wheeler from Wheeler Enterprises of White Swan, Washington, graciously provided cash prizes and incentives.
Small said the $pending Frenzy is part of a larger project her team is developing called Rodeo Bucks, a financial literacy course specifically geared to young Native rodeo competitors and their families. The curriculum is supported by the AMB Foundation and the Native Financial Learning Network, a collaborative that includes First Nations Development Institute and First Nations Oweesta Corporation with funding from Northwest Area Foundation. In addition to the $pending Frenzy, Rodeo Bucks will feature learning modules on topics like budgeting for rodeo competition, purchasing livestock, and reporting taxable income. A course pilot is planned for the spring along with a train-the-trainer workshop for high schools, tribal colleges and rodeo clubs interested in teaching the course.
“As a rodeo competitor myself, I can tell you this sport requires a high level of commitment, athletically and financially,” explained Small. “Our goal is for Rodeo Bucks to deliver a comprehensive overview of the business side of rodeo so young cowboys and cowgirls can reach their highest potential both inside and outside the arena.”
In addition to classes and workshops, the Rodeo Bucks program features youth ambassadors who spread the message of financial responsibility among peers.
Seventeen-year-old Bo Tyler Vocu, an up-and-coming bull rider from Lame Deer, Montana, is one such youth. Vocu participated in the $pending Frenzy and shared practical tips, like how he snaps photos of prize money checks and deposits them into his bank account using his phone.
“Sticking to a budget is probably the most important thing you can do to stay on top of your finances,” said the teen who was recently featured in an episode of the Vice documentary series Rites of Passage that profiles his burgeoning rodeo career. “And eat off the dollar menu! That’ll save you a lot of money on the road.”
A second Rodeo Bucks ambassador, Kaitlin Kolka, is a graduate of Montana State University and a certified Building Native Communities Financial Skills for Families instructor. She’s also the recently-crowned Miss Rodeo Montana. Kolka wasn’t able to attend the $pending Frenzy but spoke over the phone from Lame Deer where she works as an extension agent at Chief Dull Knife College.
“I’ve been involved with rodeo my whole life,” explained the 23-year-old southeastern Montanan who grew up competing in barrel racing, pole bending and goat tying. “My mom’s whole family rodeos and I started from the time I could ride. I’m excited to be part of Rodeo Bucks as well as Miss Rodeo Montana 2018. I take pride in advocating for personal finance as it relates to the sport of rodeo, Western heritage, and an agricultural way of life.”
Kolka is a third-generation rodeo queen behind her mother and grandmother, both of whom won Miss Rodeo Oregon titles. She echoed Sharon Small’s comments and said that while passion for the sport is always present, business concerns are easy to overlook.
“Financial preparation is now becoming mandatory in rodeo because a person can’t compete if they can’t pay for travel, entry fees and gear. The earlier we can start promoting financial skill-building the better.”
In the no-nonsense words of Garth Brooks, it’s the white in the knuckle, the gold in the buckle. Keep an eye out for Bo Tyler, Kaitlin and the rest of the Rodeo Bucks team in the months to come!
Interested in learning more about the Rodeo Bucks or $pending Frenzy programs? Contact Tom Robinson, Case Manager, People’s Partner for Community Development, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Shawn Spruce at email@example.com.
By Shawn Spruce, First Nations Financial Education Consultant