The FNTC undertook a video project profiling First Nations to celebrate their successes in using property taxation to build their economies and generate revenues. The intent was to revisit the past 25 years of First Nation property taxation in Canada and allow First Nations themselves to share how property taxation has impacted their community and what it means to them.
Background on community property taxation.
Songhees Nation is located in Victoria, British Columbia on Vancouver Island. It’s an urban reserve located next to the capital city of British Columbia. There are 630 band members and about 3/4 of those live on reserve. We have about 2,000 tenants that live on our reserve though.
Why did your First Nation get involved in collecting property tax?
So with the province of B.C. collecting taxes, all of that revenue was going off the reserve other than very basic sewer and water. There were no road repairs or anything done by the province. So we took on property tax jurisdiction in 1995 under the Indian Act and that generated approximately a million dollars a year in tax revenue. Both our governance and our administrative infrastructure benefited from property tax dollars. We accumulated a million dollars in a capital reserve fund which we were able to put towards the construction of the Songhees Wellness Centre. In 2008, we transitioned from Indian Act taxation to taxing under the Fiscal Management Act, and this gave us greater enforcement measures for those few tax payers that we were having difficulty collecting from. But for the most part it created a tax regime that’s very similar to what neighbouring jurisdictions have, and that helps us to be competitive.
What does property tax mean to you?
When I think of property taxation, I think of that as a fundamental right of a government. It’s a way that we express our jurisdiction and our sovereignty for these lands. And it’s a way that we are able to provide the kind of services that our taxpayers want to see and be accountable to our tax payers in a direct and meaningful way. So property taxation helps a First Nation think of itself as a government more so than when we were just operating programs on behalf of Indian Affairs. Property taxation is a government function and it gets us thinking about other aspects of ourselves as a government. And for that reason I think property taxation has been part of the foundation for Songhees Nation and moving forward towards self-determination and self-government.