First Nations Tax Commission – Commission de la fiscalitè des premières nations
FSMA Key to Strengthening Local Economy: Ktunaxa Nation Economist

FSMA Key to Strengthening Local Economy: Ktunaxa Nation Economist

“To build a nation is to build a healthy and self-reliant economy, and since we engage in economic activities in everything we do in our day-to-day lives, we need to have systems in place that maximize the benefits of having our own economy,” said Mr. Helder Ponte, the long-time director of the Economic Sector of Ktunaxa Nation Council, in his presentation on “Thirty Years in the Frontline of First Nations’ Economy Building” at the First Nation Tax Administration Association annual forum.

Without appropriate systems in place, Mr. Ponte said, a First Nations’ economic health is at risk. Similar to the experiences of other First Nations, Mr. Ponte says the absence of an infrastructure that should encourage the flow of money within the local economies of the Ktunaxa communities was one of the main challenges that faced the Ktunaxa Nation, which is comprised of seven First Nations communities spread throughout the Kootenay region of south-eastern British Columbia, north-western Montana and northern Idaho.

“Most First Nation citizens make all purchases outside their own communities because there aren’t any First Nation owned businesses in their communities,” said Mr. Ponte. On average, the Ktunaxa governments spending in the neighbouring municipalities exceeds $36 million per year through payments to individuals, including salaries, and purchase of goods and services. 

“As it happens, the money spent outside the communities is not circulated in the First Nations’ economy – it leaks out immediately, contributing only to the welfare of other communities rather than the First Nation.”

By increasing economic activity on reserve, Mr. Ponte said the First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act can play a significant role in helping to keep the dollar longer within the local economy in order to maximize its contribution to the First Nations’ economies.

“In order to fund the wide range of services that First Nations governments provide to their citizens, First Nation governments need autonomous sources of tax revenues,” said Mr. Ponte. “And, only when wealth is created and circulated within the community can First Nations break from the cycle of poverty and set itself on a path of economic prosperity.”

Among the first to exercise their authority to levy property taxes, each of the Ktunaxa community governments enacted property tax by-laws in 1993, benefitting from the assistance of the former Indian Taxation Advisory Board (today’s First Nations Tax Commission). More recently in 2008, they joined the FSMA to access the fiscal and administrative tools available through FNTC, a move Mr. Ponte said “immediately made a difference in the autonomy of the Ktunaxa communities.”

To date, each of the First Nations have their own tax administrators to manage the taxation process, which he described as “stable, predictable and transparent” and has helped them to “get a lot more done in a lot less time.”

Having contributed to the growth of Ktunaxa from six to 500 staff since he started over three decades ago, Mr. Ponte said strategic planning by the Ktunaxa Nation Council, such as making decisions to access the fiscal tools available through FNTC, has allowed them to carve out a new economic path of self-reliance for their citizens.

“For us, our property taxation system is necessary because it creates a foundation for building economic capacity that we’re in control of. We needed to make sure we have the tools that enable us to compete effectively with the municipality next door, resulting in not only us having a better government, but ultimately in the Ktunaxa citizens having a better life.”

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