December 13, 2019

RTC:Rural shares tribal VR self-employment toolkit in New Orleans

A mural painted on the side of a building. See caption for full text description.
A colorful mural painted on the side of a building in New Orleans. The mural says, “Greetings from NOLA.” The letters are filled with images of New Orleans culture including: people playing music, a Mardi Gras mask, a church, the city skyline, a crayfish boil, the Superdome and the fleur-de-lis logo of the New Orleans Saints football team.

At the beginning of December, RTC:Rural was in sunny New Orleans, Louisiana for the Consortia of Administrators for Native American Rehabilitation (CANAR) 2019 Annual Conference. RTC:Rural researchers Dr. Catherine Ipsen, Andrew Myers, and Lauren Smith met with advisor partners and presented on the Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Self-Employment Toolkit.

“Attending CANAR meetings allows us to meet face to face with our advisors and reach a broader audience of tribal stakeholders,” said Ipsen. “Together, we are developing a resource that is appropriate across tribal vocational rehabilitation programs.”

In their presentation, “Navigating Self-Employment Cases with the TVR Self-Employment Toolkit,” they shared progress to date on the Tribal VR Self-Employment Toolkit, an online resource for tribal VR counselors and their consumers to assess self-employment readiness and develop a business plan. The Tribal VR Self-Employment Toolkit is self-directed, and can be used by individuals on their own or with the guidance of a counselor or business development mentor. Development of the toolkit is being done in collaboration with seven advisor partners from six different TVR programs across the country.

“Self-employment is an important employment opportunity for many people living near or on reservations,” said Ipsen. “Building culturally relevant supports to help people achieve self-employment outcomes is at the center of this effort.  One example of how this resource will be tailored to tribal VR programs is the inclusion of a chapter focused on subsistence self-employment, which draws on traditional ways of living and community interdependence.”

Dr. Catherine Ipsen presenting at the 2019 Annual CANAR conference.
Dr. Catherine Ipsen presenting on the Tribal VR Self-Employment Toolkit at the 2019 Annual CANAR meeting.

After sharing some background information on the project and the collaborative process, Ipsen, Myers, and Smith shared content from the first three chapters of the toolkit, which are now available online.

  • Chapter 1 introduces the toolkit and provides an overview of the resource.
  • Chapter 2 explores self-employment readiness, and includes worksheets and activities to help consumers learn about personal values and traits that help support self-employment.
  • Chapter 3 explores business feasibility, and has some exercises and worksheets to help think about what makes a business successful.

“In addition to sharing the informational content, we also did some group exercises, demonstrating how to use some of the worksheets and the other discussion materials in the toolkit. Folks in the audience were really engaged with the exercises, and there were many comments about how useful these materials would be with consumers,” said Smith.

“Attending CANAR for the first time was incredibly enlightening and valuable for understanding the important work that tribal VR counselors do every day. This was my first opportunity to meet our advisors in-person and learn about how our toolkit can be best tailored to fit the unique communities in which TVR counselors work,” said Myers. “I am incredibly grateful to CANAR for allowing us to share our toolkit and listen to their feedback. We continue to rely upon the expertise of our advisors and I am excited to be part of this project!”

Many people hold up flags and banners with TVR program names on them.
The grand entry at the opening session of the 2019 Annual CANAR meeting.

The Tribal VR Self-Employment Toolkit is a work in progress. Three of the eight chapters are finalized and are live on the website.


Read more about this project on the Rural Self-Employment project page.

Learn more about the history of VR Self-Employment Guide on the Rural Self-Employment Opportunities project page.