Annamarie (Morin) Demchuk, class of 2018 valedictorian, Enoch Cree Nation tax administrator, is a member of the Enoch Cree Nation located just outside the city of Edmonton, AB.  She has a strong background in education and business and holds an MBA. Anna strongly believes in lifelong learning, having recently graduated from the Tulo Centre with a Certificate in First Nation Tax Administration. She was named class valedictorian by her fellow cohort members and was proud to walk hand-in-hand with her peers during the graduation ceremony. Anna is also currently enrolled in the Tulo Centre’s brand new Applied Lands Management certificate program and is on her third course out of the eight courses required to graduate from that certificate program.

Clearing the Path recently had the opportunity to sit down with Anna to learn more about her experience in the First Nation Taxation certificate program.

How did you first learn about the Tulo centre and its programs?
I became aware of the Tulo Centre and the FNTC many years ago.  My brother Don, who was the CEO for Enoch Cree Nation’s economic development department at the time, had a vision to ensure we had a complete department with a focus not only development for our nation, but also some missing pieces for us to move forward with, such as taxation, infrastructure and planning.  At that point, we began our journey to learn as much as we could to ensure proper development for our nation.

Enoch was very progressive in the 70’s and was actually one of the first communities to implement taxation under section 83 of the Indian Act.  Later, the First Nations Fiscal Management Act (FMA) passed royal assent and the FNTC was created to develop a thorough taxation regime that could be used by all First Nations in the country to exercise their rightful jurisdiction with a taxation regime.

How does your experience at Tulo relate to your work at Enoch?
The taxation program at Tulo has given me more insight and a strong educational foundation to ensure that we’re fully implementing all jurisdictional powers available to us through the FMA. For example, in learning about revenue options available under the FMA and in working with the FNTC, our nation became the first in Canada to receive approval to recover payments-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILTs) for an RCMP building located on our lands.

Enoch is adjacent to the City of Edmonton in a situation very similar to that of Westbank First Nation and the City of Kelowna.  Enoch and Westbank met several times to exchange knowledge and information. Through those visits, Enoch decided they could develop a better tax system with the help of the Tulo taxation program.  I had been working in our tax department with our legal counsel since 2010 implementing taxation through s 83 of the Indian Act. Then in 2014, we decided we wanted to join the FMA so at that time, our former leadership enacting a BCR to be scheduled to the FMA, and that felt like the most opportune time to take the First Nation Taxation certificate program.

Prior to taking the program, I was doing things the hard way where I was developing my own drafts of laws and going through a lawyer and paying their legal fees but with First Nations Tax Commission, they have already went through all this stuff and have made templates, standards and samples available so it saves you so much in time and legal fees. I thought that was really helpful.

We’ve built up Enoch’s tax regime and now within two years, our tax revenues and the services we are able to provide are comparable to our reference jurisdiction, which is the City of Edmonton. It’s given us a lot of confidence to know we can do this. It’s very powerful.

What has been the most valuable aspect about the program for you so far?
While at first I was a little afraid to go back to school; in the end I am very glad I did. A valuable learning experience for me has been that you are never too old or too educated to go back to school. I have learned so much more about implementing a comprehensive tax regime for Enoch with taxation laws that have to be abided by regardless of what elected leadership is in.  New leadership every two years can create instability and uncertainty in many communities, but now we at least have our tax laws in place that provide procedures, transparency, and proper accounting controls to ensure taxation revenues will be spent in a manner consistent with our laws.  Our current leadership is proud of me for completing the taxation course, with honours, and is grateful for the growth taxation has provided to our community.  We now have comparable tax rates to our reference jurisdiction, the City of Edmonton, which is because we’ve done our due diligence and taken the time to fully understand the taxation regime. This is a result of the education I gained from Tulo that provided me invaluable taxation knowledge and experiences.

Another aspect I appreciated is that Tulo brings students together (both First Nations and non-First Nations) from many different provinces all over Canada. Through the cohort model, we are able to develop long-term friendships, share many of our concerns, similarities, and give each other advice, if asked and needed.

How does that taxation fit into your community’s future?
Enoch’s taxation regime will help us ensure that as we develop, we have proper property taxes for commercial and residential developments.  As we grow, we have learned that tax revenues are so important. Those revenues can help fund capital infrastructure projects and make your community a better place to live in today, and more importantly for our future generations to thrive.

Do you have any final thoughts?
I see taxation as an incredibly helpful tool to empower many bands to take control of their jurisdictional powers and help their communities.

I am very grateful to all of the people involved in the overall development of the Tulo programs. I would like to also thank our previous leadership at Enoch, along with Ernest Jack at Westbank, and Trenton Paul at FNTC for their support and encouragement for Enoch to become scheduled to the FMA and work with the FNTC. Through their support, Enoch has been empowered to understand our tax regime better and fully implement it as a result of the Tulo program.

 “Information and Education is powerful, if used the right way” – HIY HIY