Students

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.

February 2017 Hashtag Contest: #IndigenousEconomics

ARE YOU A TULO CENTRE STUDENT, PAST OR PRESENT? 
ENTER OUR CONTEST TO WIN AN EMBROIDERED LEATHER VEST! 

  1. Follow the Tulo Centre on TwitterInstagram or Facebook
  2. Post a photo, video or text showing how Tulo helps your understanding or supports your work at home surrounding #IndigenousEconomics 
  3. Some ideas: show us what you are working on in the classroom or in your community. Tell us how Indigenous Economics  is important and how it helps you help your community.  
  4. Use the hashtag #IndigenousEconomics and tag the Tulo Centre in your post. 
  5. For each post, you will be automatically entered in the draw to win an embroidered leather vest. 
  6. This contest closes midnight on February 28, 2017. 

January 2017 Hashtag Contest: #SharingKnowledge

ARE YOU A TULO CENTRE STUDENT, PAST OR PRESENT? 
ENTER OUR CONTEST TO WIN AN EMBROIDERED LEATHER VEST! 

  1. Follow the Tulo Centre on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook
  2. Post a photo, video or text showing how Tulo helps in the process of #SharingKnowledge.
  3. Some ideas: show us what you are working on in the classroom or in your community. Tell us how sharing knowledge with each other is important and how it helps you help your community.  
  4. Use the hashtag #SharingKnowledge and tag the Tulo Centre in your post. 
  5. For each post, you will be automatically entered in the draw to win an embroidered leather vest. 
  6. This contest closes midnight on January 31, 2017. 

Tulo Centre Graduate Profile: Wendy Ham

Sumas First Nation’s tax administrator Wendy Ham attended Tulo from 2014- 2015 and will be graduating with her certificate in First Nation Tax Administration this year. Prior to entering the field of tax administration, Wendy worked in post-secondary education and in the not- for-profit (NFP) sector and received her CGA designation in 2001. After spending seven years in NFP, Wendy was hired as a consultant at Sumas First Nation (SFN) in April 2013, eventually assuming the permanent Finance Manager position in January 2014. Wendy has also recently applied to receive her certified Aboriginal Finance Manager designation.

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

How did you get into tax administration?

When I started working on Sumas First Nation’s audit, I began touching on the tax side of things and was trying to understand the complexity of taxation. Prior to my involvement, tax administration was being done off the side of someone’s desk, so I spearheaded the process of reviewing SFN’s tax laws and identified areas to work on so the laws better reflected the needs of the community and connected with FNTC for support. From there, I was contacted by Tulo to see if I was interested in doing the program and once I took a look at the curriculum, I realized it was a great opportunity to expand my limited knowledge and understanding.

What did you enjoy most about your program?

I loved meeting tax administrators from other nations. There’s nothing better than the opportunity to brainstorm and find out what others are doing, to get to the issues and share concerns. It was a really great experience.

I enjoyed that it was practical knowledge you could take and put to work right away. It also gave me the opportunity to be proactive instead of reactive – that was huge. In tax administration, the key to having a good program is being proactive with taxpayers. Taxation weaves into so many areas of First Nation administration, including land and resource management and working on infrastructure. It really is a cornerstone of sound First Nation governance.

What did you learn from your fellow tax administrator graduates?

I learned leaseholders across the nation are the same and we all have similar issues and we can really learn from each other. I also learned that property tax is more complicated than one might initially think and having a group to reach out to and work with is truly great.

Do you keep in touch with the other graduates from your cohort?

I do. I run into them at conferences. We all have each other’s contact information so it’s easy to connect and discuss issues we encounter. One of my cohort members is also in finance and tax administration so we try to keep in touch.

Through all the material covered during your program, what stood out the most?

One of the biggest things is the complexity, there is so much more to think about than just collecting taxes. There’s the potential of development cost charges, service taxes and other ways to raise capital to make your First Nation better. It’s not just about collecting tax dollars, it’s about using those dollars in the best way possible for your First Nation. It really impacted how I thought about how we deal with property tax and made me change the way we administer our property tax system.

How has the successful completion of the program impacted your work at SFN?

It’s definitely a lot more work initially but again that ties into being proactive. It’s a matter of meeting early on with potential taxpayers or leaseholders to build those relationships so they know what they are getting into and helping them understand the process. It is so important to have good long term relations with leaseholders. It may be a lot more work up front, but it saves so much time and energy in the long run because the tax appeal process is long, stressful and expensive. By taking a proactive approach and focusing on good taxpayer relations, First Nations can avoid many of those problems.

What would you say to a fellow tax administrator who has not yet had the opportunity to attend Tulo?

I would definitely tell them it’s the best year and half that they could spend to get good, sound knowledge of what it means to be a tax administrator because I think there’s a lot of people who have no idea how deep that role is in the organization and how beneficial the education is.

The program Tulo offers is really great and is set up in a good way that works with the busy schedule of tax administrators. This education is a cornerstone that we can all use so we don’t waste time trying to reinvent the wheel. Tax administrators can go into this and gain so much in such a short time. Doing the program does nothing but bring credibility to our role within our First Nations. 

*This article originally was published in the First Nations Tax Commission newsletter Clearing the Path. 

Yellow Quill First Nation: First Saskatchewan First Nation to develop its laws entirely under the FMA

In June the Yellow Quill First Nation enacted its Property Taxation and Assessment Laws, becoming the first Saskatchewan First Nation to develop their laws entirely under the First Nations Fiscal Management Act. Yellow Quill joins Whitecap Dakota First Nation, White Bear First Nations, and Muskeg Lake Cree Nation taxing under the FMA, and is now among nine communities collecting tax under either the FMA or the Indian Act.

For Yellow Quill, the laws are integral to the First Nation’s plan to develop its Treaty Land Entitlement (TLE) Lands in downtown Saskatoon into an office complex. Property tax revenue will pay for the services provided by the City of Saskatoon to the office complex, and will afford Yellow Quill the ability to improve and expand community infrastructure and services. In development for over a year, the laws are key to Yellow Quill’s vision of continued community growth.

“Yellow Quill and its membership are proud of establishing this jurisdiction,” said Yellow Quill First Nation Chief Larry Cachene. “The decision to tax, particularly the decision to use the FMA, had a lot do with creating the best opportunities for investment and economic growth.”

Yellow Quill’s taxation of TLE lands follows the path first carved out by Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in 1992. Under the TLE Framework, Saskatchewan Treaty First Nations can acquire lands in and outside of municipal jurisdiction and convert the land into reserves. Where reserves are established within city boundaries, First Nations must negotiate a municipal services agreement with the city.

The passage of the laws is also satisfying for Yellow Quill Tax Administrator Leila Nashacappo who was a student in the First Nation Tax Administration Certificate Program at the Tulo Centre of Indigenous Economics.

“At Tulo we studied the FMA legislative framework and how First Nations establish their tax jurisdiction. That experience served me well in helping to develop communication materials for Council and the membership. A lot of hard work went into this, and its so good to see the finished product.”

This article originally appeared in the First Nations Tax Commission newsletter Clearing the Path

CFNTA Grad Class of 2013

Before this course I saw taxation as a fundraiser but now I can appreciate the political, legal and economic importance. The program gave me confidence to take on tax administration and most of all, connected me to FNTC and other First Nations. Advice and support (and answers to questions!) have always been just an email or phone call away.
— Leanne Bradbury, Tulo Graduate

The second graduating class of the Certificate in First Nation Tax Administration program

  • Arnold Baptiste, Simpcw First Nation
  • Dean Bear, Muskoday First Nation
  • Gordon Bluesky, Brokenhead Ojibway Nation
  • Leanne Bradbury, Comox Indian Band
  • Nicole Calver, First Nations Tax Commission
  • Bonnie English, T’Souke Nation
  • Kerri-Jo Fortier, Simpcw First Nation
  • Lynn Gottfriedson, Tk’emlúps Indian Band
  • Jordan Joe, Shackan Indian Band
  • Elise Petersen, Westbank First Nation
  • Kalulani Pyper, Tk’emlúps Indian Band
  • Sandra Sprinkling, T’Souke Nation
  • Lise Steele, We Wai Kai Nation

Benefits of becoming a CFNTA graduate are: 

  • Meets one criteria for Certified Tax Administrator membership status with the First Nations Tax Administrators Association.
  • Potential career advancement, personal development and expands your professional network.
  • Excel at property tax administration and contribute to the success of your community.

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.”