Purpose, Challenge and Process
Established in 2013, Ulnooweg Financial Education Centre’s purposes are to promote First Nations Leaders’ understanding of their own government’s finances, and Research to advance the economic participation of Atlantic First Nations. The Board of Directors consists of Chiefs from throughout the Atlantic Region, and its staff members are professionals with decades of financial experience and expertise.
First Nations in Atlantic Canada are poised for increasing participation in the regional economy. Partnership opportunities in the energy and resource sectors are increasing, progress in the fisheries sector has assisted many First Nations in reducing unemployment and debt and generating equity for growth and an increasing number of First Nations college and university graduates are eager to play a role in new developments.
There is a challenge that needs to be addressed. The capacity of First Nation governments – Chiefs and Councils – must be continuously expanded to keep up with the rapidly increasing complexity and consequences of their financial decisions.
First Nations financial governance covers a much wider spectrum than that of most local and regional governments in Canada, spanning rights and claims, health, justice, education, social welfare, housing, municipal, and community-owned business matters. None of the regional, provincial and federal oversight systems and models available to mainstream decision-makers in Canada are in place to assist them with these responsibilities. Major investments have been made by governments to support vital elements of good financial governance. These include training to develop a corps of professional First Nations financial management officers, an institution to provide financial management legislation standards, accreditation and compliance certification, and clear and public financial accountability and reporting standards. These elements are only as effective as the capacity of the changing councils of mostly non financially-trained decision makers to make the most effective use of them.
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The Centre’s “Community Financial Review Process” enhances capacity in two ways:
Number 1: By “digesting” the complex data from multiple years of First Nations audited financial statements into a set of clear, easily understood graphs that capture the essence of the First Nations past and current financial situation, and most significant trends. This enables an informed discussion about the choices that need to be made. These graphs place a special focus on the particular financial challenges and opportunities of each individual nation, so that no two reports are alike. The reports also focus on specific financial management issues identified in the preparation of the graphs, such as how debt is managed and has, on several occasions, resulted in bringing to the attention of decision makers costly errors and potential remedies.
Number 2: A multi-year mentoring process is implemented to progressively increase the capacity of Chief and Council to use this tool, to ask the right questions to their financial managers, to understand the answers, to weigh the technical financing options presented to them by staff and consultants, and to ensure financial decisions are taken with the “full picture” of the nation’s long-term planning and interests in consideration. Special consideration is given to debt, a critical issue at a time where rapidly increasing own-source income is generating the ability of First Nations to enter into “good” as well as “bad” debt.