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. 

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.

First Cohort to graduate from leading First Nations program

The first students in a program unique in Canada will graduate today to become leaders in the rapidly developing field of First Nations taxation and development. 

The program at Thompson Rivers University arises from lawmaking in the House of Commons started more than two decades ago by former Tk'emlups Indian Band chief Manny Jules, the mover behind what is known as the Kamloops Amendment to the Indian Act. 

That change in law gave First Nations bands taxation authority, similar to a municipality. Tk'emlups Indian Band became a national leader in using reserve lands for residential and commercial development. 

But Andre Ledressay, an economist and expert in First Nations taxation living in Kamloops, said the human resources and education in Canada to take advantage of the rapidly expanding field is only beginning. 

Ledressay teaches the course to students from across Canada, both online and on campus. 

The first 11 graduating students from the Tulo Centre of Indigenous Economics housed at TRU celebrate the event this evening at a ceremony in conjunction with the university's fall convocation. 

"I've been walking on Cloud 9," said Nicole Casimel, a First Nations woman who grew up in Fraser Lake and now works for the Little Shuswap Indian Band. 

Casimel started the program in 2008, soon after she became the lands, taxation and housing clerk for the band. 

Casimel, who worked in accounts payable previously, soon learned the taxman, or taxwoman in this case, is not the most popular administrator. She said certificate program at TRU gave her the confidence, growing out of knowledge in tax law and administration. 

"You realize you're actually government and you're responsible for the taxation and financial base of the reserve," she said. 

Ledressay said Casimel's enthusiasm is matched by opportunities for graduates. While B.C. Interior Indian bands, including Tk'emlups and Westbank Indian Band, are experienced in land development and taxation, other parts of Canada are untested. 

"We're getting First Nations from Manitoba who are really interested," said Ledressay, a leader in Canada on First Nations economics and taxation. 

"They're setting out with property tax potential and land development potential. It's really just beginning." 

While First Nations may assume powers of taxation and development, similar to a municipality, there are important legal differences that administrators must understand. Until this program was developed, Ledressay said professionals working for First Nations had to learn it on their own. 

The adjunct professor credited Jules and former TRU president Roger Barnsley for making the program happen. 

All the initial graduates are already professionals working for First Nations bands, who took a combination of online and on-campus learning. But Ledressay said the next cohort will include students not yet working who hope to make it a career. 

Casimel will graduate with a certificate in First Nations tax administration and is nearing a second certificate in First Nations applied economics. 

There are also long-term plans for a bachelor's degree program now under development. 

Derek Cook, a political science professor at TRU, said he expressed concerns to the university several years ago that the program wasn't reviewed by the arts department and represents a right-wing philosophical view of free markets and development. 

"It presents one side of the (economics) argument and not others," Cook said. "Usually academics say 'on one handâ' Here, we only have the right hand, shall we say." 

Ledressay dismissed the criticism, calling it "an academic bun fight." 

He said the program is a skills-based and not a humanities education. 

Cook said while he continues to have the concerns, he is satisfied that a four-year degree program under development will be reviewed by arts faculty and include traditional academic principles expressing a wide range of philosophy in economics. 

Casimir hopes to continue education in the program. She added that one of the most valuable outcomes is networking with the rest of the graduating class, who become a resource for questions and tackling problems in the future. 


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