First Nations today simply do not have enough funding or power to solve the numerous difficult issues they are plagued with every day. Many First Nations across Canada are struggling to deliver the most basic services to their community members with meagre resources and little capacity. However, these First Nations want to provide more than just the basics to their communities. They aspire to lift their people out of poverty and provide opportunities for individual and community prosperity. Many First Nations are also looking to the future and want to lay the groundwork for the success of future generations.
As First Nations strive to find new and innovative ways to fix these issues, they are faced with many obstacles that can leave many frustrated and asking questions about why the system works the way it does. Why does economic development work differently on reserve? What is the difference between the funding a First Nation receives and the funding a municipality receives? Why do some communities seem to grow while others seem stuck?
The First Nations Tax Commission (FNTC) has been researching, applying and working toward improved solutions to these complex economic issues for over 25 years. However, many First Nations do not understand how the FNTC supports the governance and jurisdiction of First Nation governments and strives to see them flourish.
The current model of federal government programming provides First Nations with funding. While there are many great programs and opportunities for First Nations, especially when the federal government has specific mandates directed at improving life on reserve, relying on these programs means funds are always limited and will change with the federal government’s mandate and objectives.
This means two things for First Nations:
1. There is never enough funding to make a difference and
2. First Nation cannot make decisions or set directions independent from the federal government.
First Nations have also been working for decades toward solutions to these issues. One solution is for First Nation governments to raise their own revenues, independent from government programs, transfers and royalties. Almost 200 First Nation across Canada are implementing property taxation on reserve, with the support of the FNTC. This jurisdiction leads to First Nations collecting approximately $80 million per year. That is $80 million dollars spent on improving local services and building community infrastructure in First Nations across Canada. That is $80 million dollars that First Nation leaders have added to their budgets with the power to decide where each dollar goes based on their own laws and strategic plans.
This trend is exciting and the increased capacity and strength is visibly evident in First Nation communities that have implemented property taxation. However, is it enough? Can we be satisfied with this glass ceiling and not seek more jurisdiction, more autonomy, and more independent revenue? Can a true nation-to-nation relationship be achieved when one government is dependent on transfers from another?
A new fiscal relationship between First Nations and the Government of Canada should be based on more than federal transfers and unpredictable agreements. First Nations funding should not be determined by a line in the federal budget. The new fiscal relationship should include full tax powers for First Nations, just as other governments have the ability to share portions of the tax revenue collected locally, provincially and federally. Different levels of government have the ability to operate and provide quality services to their citizens through this arrangement. Why are First Nations excluded from that relationship?
There is no question First Nations should have this same fiscal relationship. To receive tax revenue first hand, instead of down the line after administration costs and outside mandates are added on. This new fiscal relationship would provide First Nations the ability to generate revenues to protect their interests. First Nations are the best care-takers of their own people, lands and resources. First Nations should have the financial jurisdiction and power to choose.
The future of our communities depends on the decisions we make today. The opportunity for our leadership to create this change is here now.