Tulo student profile: Jesse James, class of 2017 valedictorian

Shxw’ow’hamel First Nation’s tax administrator Jesse James was in the 2015/2016 cohort for the Certificate in First Nation Tax Administration and graduated from the program earlier this month. Three years ago, Jesse was hired by Shxw’ow’hamel as the band administrator and as the organization transitioned, he also began serving as the tax administrator. Jesse is a member of Peguis First Nation in Manitoba and has lived in BC for most of his life. Jesse was chosen by his fellow classmates as valedictorian for their cohort and delivered a speech at Tulo’s graduation dinner.

Recently Clearing the Path had the opportunity to sit down with Jesse to learn more about his experience as a tax administrator and as a student at the Tulo Centre of Indigenous Economics.

How did you first learn about the Tulo Centre and its programs?

The program description came across my desk and really interested me. When I started at Shxw’ow’hamel, we were transitioning from taxing using section 83 by-laws to taxation under the FMA. At the time, I didn’t fully understand how the tax system works or why we did things a certain way, so I jumped at the opportunity to strengthen my knowledge in that area.

It worked out great because all the course material I was working on, had just completed, or was preparing to do was all falling in-line with how our transition to the FMA was progressing at Shxw’ow’hamel.

How does your experience at Tulo relate to your work at Shxw’ow’hamel?

Understanding how the laws are made, and understanding the benefits of a budget-based tax system as opposed to using reference jurisdiction was invaluable. With a budget-based system, you have to actually think about the services you will be providing ahead of time rather than figuring out expenditures after the revenues start coming in. I learned more about how to think more like a government, and it was definitely helpful to be able to ask questions of the instructors who have an incredible depth of experience and expertise.

Through the courses, I began to see how taxes can be used to benefit, support and fund initiatives the community wants. You’re creating own-source revenue and your own laws to expend funds in ways that best serve your community. It allows the community to decide how they want to spend their money and where they want to focus their priorities. Just by having that, it provides a stronger sense of community and inclusiveness. At Shxw’ow’hamel, there’s a really good sense of community so having this system in place builds on that.

You are currently working toward earning a Certificate in First Nation Applied Economics. What made you want to pursue another certificate through the Tulo Centre?

The quality of instruction is great and I like the way the curriculum is presented. Tulo’s cohort model is community-minded and that seems to work well. You get a lot from the instructor but you also get a lot from the students in the class too. Everyone shares best practices and the lessons learned, both good and bad. When we can bring that knowledge back home, that makes all of our communities better.

There were students in our class from all areas of Canada, and you can really see the similarities even though we’re separated by provinces and legislation. The issues we face and the successes we have are so similar and to be able to rely on a whole group going through the same process, doing assignments and sending out an email or picking up the phone, it really helps to have that initial support. You want to see each other do well, so you’re going to reach out and give the support, offer and in some cases, seek support. It really works.

The Tulo programs showed me there’s a lot of different ways you can create own source revenue through development cost charges or having small developments. Currently Shxw’ow’hamel doesn’t have any residential leaseholds but if we did, we’d have to set that up in advance and it’s nice to have the theory behind it. By immediately applying the theoretical knowledge we’ve learned – I’ve been able to participate in some conversations with my fellow classmates on opportunities and issues they’re going through in their communities – it is so helpful in expanding my own understanding.

Shxw’ow’hamel is a proponent of two key FNTC initiatives: the Aboriginal Resource Tax and the Indigenous Land Title Initiative. Why does Shxw’ow’hamel support these initiatives?

We’re definitely interested in seeing both initiatives go forward. With the ART, I understand it’s been a concept for a while now so we are trying to gain momentum within the group of proponents and hopefully for all First Nations in Canada. It’s just one other source of revenue for First Nation governments and it’s going to make our economies stronger and more flexible.

It’s critical to our success to have own source revenue to do what you want on your land or to purchase more land. With setting up a land registry system through ILTI, we need First Nations exercising their jurisdiction in either taxation or land ownership, that’s the bottom line.

We’ve got momentum now, we just need to keep pushing forward.