Shackan Indian Band’s tax administrator Heather Fader was in the 2015/2016 cohort for the Certificate in First Nation Tax Administration and will be graduating with her certificate this June. Nearly four years ago, Heather began working for Shackan as the executive director. Heather works with Chief and Council to manage day-to-day operations, reporting and budgeting, drives band projects and the development of finance policy and procedures.
Recently Clearing the Path had the opportunity to sit down with Heather 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?
Shackan began taxation in 2012. When I started in 2013, I didn’t know what to do so I pulled up our previous year’s laws and went from there.
How did you become enrolled in Tulo?
A previous staff member had gone through the program so those books were left in my office. I started doing online research, found Tulo and what the centre was about. I applied for a bursary to assist with the training and luckily was accepted into the program. Going through the certificate program has taught me so much more than I originally thought possible. Shackan has been working on developing strategic goals, building economic development opportunities, creating own source revenue and the course content helped put the critical pieces in place to build a solid foundation to achieve our community’s long term goals.
How does what you learned at Tulo help you in your work at Shackan?
Everything I learned definitely makes me more efficient. Through Tulo, we also learned about the Tax Administration System (TAS). At Shackan, we only have two folios and they are utilities, but we decided to use TAS for consistency. The system issues tax notices rather than us using spreadsheets. It used to take me two to five days to draft the annual laws and then get the invoices out and follow up. With TAS, it takes half a day. It is so much more efficient and generates professional tax invoices.
What has been the most valuable aspect about the program for you so far?
I think overall the biggest thing is a strong understanding of First Nation tax jurisdiction. Tax can be seen as a dirty word in First Nation communities but it doesn’t have to be. Understanding jurisdiction and title and rights, and turning that jurisdiction into revenue for the band is huge.
How does taxation fit into your community’s financial planning?
Our expenditure laws ensure our tax budget is concrete. We have solid ground to stand on in terms of what we’re spending on and with good reason. It’s a strong accountability measure, and at Shackan, that accountability is expanding to cover all areas of our administration.
We are experiencing growth, but with that, we have strong principles and standards. Even just saying we have regulations and standards and discussing how we’re meeting them is a huge education piece for our leadership and our members. The tax administrator program focuses on principles around jurisdiction and the founding concepts are really something that is good and sound, and can be expanded everywhere.
What are your thoughts on the diverse backgrounds of other students?
For our class, some of the students were in finance, while others came from the economic development side. There were also some band managers or executive directors. The size of the communities and the provinces we all come from was varied. This was beneficial throughout the program, as we were able to learn about perspectives, ask lots of questions and had some discussions. The diversity was wonderful for sharing knowledge and knowing we didn’t have to reinvent the wheel and that other First Nations are tackling similar issues and have great solutions. I made some great friends that I will definitely remain in contact with.
What would you say to a First Nation that is taxing but hasn’t had someone attend Tulo yet?
If a First Nation is taxing and they haven’t done Tulo, I highly recommend it. The First Nations Fiscal Management Act is actual legislation and it’s a lot bigger than people realize. It’s not just property tax. If you are a tax administrator and you haven’t done the program, you are probably missing out on revenue. There were people in our class that had been collecting property tax for a long time and they didn’t have service fees or development cost charges in place so their tax dollars were being eaten up developing opportunities where DCCs can help a First Nation recoup those expenditures. The financial impacts of not doing this program are huge for those that do not fully understand everything involved in tax administration.
I personally believe in life long learning. A lot changes in the environment we work in. The world changes, political influences change. The more you can learn and understand the particulars that impact you, the better off you are going to be. The tax administration program allows a First Nation to build a solid foundation with their governance and allows them to jump on business opportunities they choose to participate in.