Maximizing FSMA Potential

Students from throughout Canada came to Kamloops in January for a week of studies in real property taxation at the Tulo Centre of Indigenous Economics, located on the Thomson Rivers University campus.

Students, like Lise Steele of the We Wai Kai Nation, are helping to implement First Nation property taxation in their community. The First Nations are working at various stages of developing their own property taxation system as offered through the First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act (FSMA).

Steele spent a week learning about local revenue budgets and First Nation expenditure laws and rates laws in her APEC 1620 class. She says the training is helping her in her job as the newly-appointed tax administrator for We Wai Kai Nation, which has five designated reserve lands in BC. Four are on Quadra Island and the fifth in Quinsam is located on Vancouver Island in Campbell River.

Tulo courses align with her First Nation’s initiatives currently underway. Along with undertaking sectorial self-government initiatives, such as establishing their own membership and land codes, We Wai Kai Nation is working with the FNTC in drafting its property taxation laws. The draft laws will be presented to the community upon completion. 

“It’s our first year and we don’t have a lot of businesses on reserves that would be affected. The few we have are band-owned entities and they would be exempt from taxation,” says Steele, whose Nation operates a lodge, campsite, gas station, liquor store and food franchise. “However, we want to get the best practices in place so that as we grow and build the potential of new leaseholds, these rules will already be put in place.”

Pleased with her progress in the program, Steele feels she is better equipped to coordinate the law notification process that she will be conducting in the community.

“So far, I’ve been gaining a thorough understanding of what is required under the FNTC standards and laws,” says Steele. “This training has been very valuable because it’s not about an imagined scenario – it is about real life, on-the-ground work that’s happening right now.”

She continues, “I feel more confident about my ability to explain the laws to our band membership and make sure that they are fully aware of how the assessment law works, why we are putting it in place, the reasoning behind it, and the goals of those tax revenues.”  

Gordon BlueSky of the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation (BON) is also studying First Nation property taxation at the Tulo Centre of Indigenous Economics. BlueSky is also interested in exploring the possibilities of how FSMA can benefit his reserve, which is located 30 minutes north of Winnipeg and home to the jointly-owned South Beach Casino and Resort.

Brokenhead Ojibway Nation has recently purchased new property outside of Winnipeg through its Treaty Land Entitlement, and Bluesky says his First Nation is considering property taxation as an addition to the legislation presently governing his First Nation.

“It is such a long and cumbersome process under the Indian Act, and I believe we are ready to move beyond that and move into our own lands management system,” says BlueSky. “Whenever we had to sit down with municipalities and create these services agreement, I realized that our own property tax revenue could eventually finance our own infrastructure, and that’s when we made contact with the FNTC.”

Since his reserve was added to the FSMA Schedule through a Band Council Resolution, BlueSky says the Tulo course is equipping him with the appropriate technical skills to navigate the FSMA regulatory framework. He admits that property tax is a new field to him but he’s excited by the successes experienced by his fellow classmates.

“To hear about what has been happening at Tk’emlúps   Indian Band (TIB) or with my other classmates from BC, Ontario, Manitoba or Saskatchewan has been inspiring – there has been so much gained and learned here, which I wouldn’t have learned anywhere else.”

“If you rewind TIB back 30 years ago, for example, BON is just going through that development phase,” says BlueSky. “And thanks to this class and my colleagues, I’m beginning to see new opportunities and possibilities for my First Nation that I hadn’t realized before.”