Saddle Lake Cree Nation (SLCN) is a rapidly growing community with a demographic that continues to get younger and a population that is expected to pass 25,000 by 2025. The community is excited about what the future has in store for them, but they also have to prepare for such rapid growth.
SLCN understands the need for long-term solutions for the growing service needs and to attract their members back to the community and for the growing service needs. This includes planning for a transfer facility for garbage, upgrading the new water treatment plant, adding new water lines for the parts of the community not currently served and building new homes.
As with most nations, historically SLCN has depended on federal funding for the majority of their program and service needs. SLCN realized in order to develop their independence, they needed to shift their mindset and take a proactive approach to their growing community and look for opportunities to create their own source revenue.
With the help of the FNTC, Saddle Lake began to assess the benefits of taxation and addressed questions and concerns from the community. Ken Large, an SLCN tax administrator, said, “The mindset is that we don’t do tax as First Nations,” so community engagement was critical to ensure taxation would be welcome and that the community understood the long-term benefits taxation would bring.
In June 2015, SLCN leadership took the crucial first step and formally implemented taxation. Leadership realized this must be done as a way of creating further own source revenue and exercising their jurisdiction as a government rather than relying on what’s trickled down to them through funding from other governments. Today, First Nation communities must manage their land, resources, and infrastructure just as any government does. Taxation is an essential and important part of self-governance.
Winston Lapatak, one of SLCN’s tax administrators said, “We want to increase our skills broaden our hopes and horizons and move toward strong fiscal independence, and taxation is a crucial component. We need to comprehend and master the intricacies of the tax system so we can benefit from what is rightly ours to manage.”
The implementation of SLCN’s taxation does not mean they are taxing their members. Rather, the community is charging property tax to companies with land-based interests on their reserve lands, including businesses, pipelines, transmission lines, communication towers, etc. For years, companies have not been subject to taxation on SLCN lands but as SLCN continues to build its governance, this will be the cost of doing business on their lands.
Funds raised through taxation stay in the community and can be used to resolve problems that are under-funded. Taxation revenues will be used to maintain existing infrastructure and build new infrastructure to attract new residents and outside developers. SLCN will have proper facilities, decent roads, clean water and are working toward an effective waste management system. They are also assessing opportunities to use funds to raise cultural awareness and language, reinstate tribal police and provide opportunities for sports facilities and training.
SLCN continues to work hard to build tax administration capacity, including training through the Tulo Centre of Indigenous Economics. This training is critical to their success so they can effectively create laws and budgets that will work for their nation and continue to grow their tax base opportunities. SLCN also recognized the need for this improved administration to be better equipped for future potential opportunities under the First Nations Fiscal Management Act.
The FNTC and the FMA offer many benefits and SLCN plans on taking full advantage of them. Governance of their tax jurisdiction builds the community, ensures longevity and creates community pride. Implementing and controlling tax jurisdiction allows them to plan for a prosperous future, protects resources, and creates a safe and happy community for generations to come.