How a collaborative effort created a unique course that addresses the Indigenous tax gap in academic and CPA circles
When Doug Stuart, Gustavson BCom ’12, joined the Gustavson School of Business in 2018, he had considerable experience in an accounting firm under his belt. This allowed him to teach corporate finance, management and taxation, as well as accounting in undergraduate and graduate programs, confident that his programs would support holistic student learning.
But that confidence was shaken in 2019, when he participated in the Indigenous Advancement of Cultural Entrepreneurship (IACE) program. IACE is a collaboration between Tribal Resources Investment Corporation (TRICORP) and the business school, and offers invitational entrepreneurship training in Indigenous communities across the country.
Stuart recalls, “I traveled to Hazelton in northern British Columbia and worked there with aboriginal entrepreneurs who had amazing business ideas and asked a lot of tax-related questions. But when I approached different universities that I thought would have the answers, I realized that Indigenous tax issues weren’t discussed in academic circles and certainly weren’t central to the accountant curriculum. licensed professional.
“I was surprised. I had mistakenly assumed that Aboriginal business tax accounting in Canada was well covered. And because my own curriculum did not address the issue, students who took my courses were missing something important .
Fast forward to April 2022: Stuart, now an assistant professor of education at Gustavson, has updated COM 425 Taxation for Managers, his fourth-year tax course, to include information about First Nations governments with their own revenue systems and how tax rules apply to Aboriginal Business Owners on and off reserve.
The revamped content was made possible with the help of Indigenous tax expert Mindy Wight and students Emily Salmon (PhD candidate at Gustavson’s Gill Graduate School) and Jordyn Hrenyk (Gustavson BCom ’15 and PhD candidate at the Beedie School of Business in Simon Fraser University). “Emily and Jordyn did the heavy lifting and taught me a lot about Indigenous ways of knowing, real life scenarios facing Indigenous entrepreneurs, and research methods,” says Stuart. “This project would not have been possible without them.”
ACI strives to help potential Indigenous entrepreneurs take the first steps towards starting their own business through workshops and in-depth coaching and mentoring. While in Hazelton, Stuart gained a first-hand appreciation of the skill and determination of the Aboriginal entrepreneurial community. And his concern about the lack of Aboriginal tax content in post-secondary institutions was exacerbated by the fact that, according to the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, the The Indigenous economy contributes $32 billion annually to Canada’s GDP and is growing.
Additionally, the National Association of Aboriginal Capital Corporations has determined that Aboriginal communities have the potential to contribute approximately $100 billion in annualized revenue to Canada’s economy. “So it was imperative for me to prepare students in all my courses, including those I teach in the Gustavson BCom degree, to be aware of Indigenous tax issues,” says Stuart.
While the IACE experience prompted Stuart to realize gaps in the content of his own curricula, it was followed several months later by an equally revealing encounter with Prince George-based Mindy Wight, to whom he was referred by a colleague after returning to Victoria. He recalls that when he first phoned her to discuss his intention to redevelop his fourth-year taxation course into the Bachelor of Commerce, “she struck me as a consummate professional with incredible knowledge of finance. , leadership, Indigenous fiscal issues and First Nations governance and community development”.
Wight, who at the time was a partner at business advisory firm MNP (and is now CFO of the Nch’kaỷ Development Corporation, the economic development arm of the Squamish Nation), was also impressed with the insight of Stuart. But it was her passion that convinced her to find time in her busy schedule to help out. “It was very important to me, because it would be a challenge to overcome the long-standing stigma, like the prevailing myth that our people don’t pay taxes,” she says.
Prior to the course redesign, Stuart and Wight co-authored an article for the Canadian Tax Foundation, Supporting Canadian Indigenous Entrepreneurs: Navigating Complex Tax Rules. The article demonstrated the complexity of the rules by showing how regulations fluctuate between on-reserve and off-reserve businesses. Stuart says, “Some of the rules are not easy to understand, even for professionals, and the intention of our article, as would be the intention of my revamped course, was to give people a broad knowledge of the subject. »
Stuart again consulted with colleagues to find Indigenous students who could help develop reading lists, course materials, discussion questions, and instructor notes for his new curriculum content. “They would do the heavy lifting, and I eventually reached out to Emily Salmon,” he says.
Salmon is a doctoral candidate at Gustavson’s Gill Graduate School, and also a member of the Cowichan Tribes with experience leading and supporting HR in Indigenous organizations. Like Wight, she was impressed by Stuart’s passion. “I was busy with my doctorate and couldn’t afford to waste time with someone who would just pay lip service,” she says. “Doug’s intentions were genuine, so I phoned a friend and said, ‘There’s a really cool project going on here; do you want to join?’ Fortunately, she said yes.
That person was Jordyn Hrenyk, a PhD candidate in business administration focused on Indigenous entrepreneurship at SFU’s Beedie School of Business and a Gustavson BCom ’15 graduate. “I’m Michif from the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan and I found Doug’s project incredibly meaningful,” she says. “I’ve worked with Indigenous entrepreneurs for nearly a decade and found that financial management and taxation are some of the most difficult business areas for entrepreneurs to manage. So I thought that such a project would go a long way in reducing the barriers faced by Aboriginal entrepreneurs.
The project launched in October 2020. “Our goal was to get my students to think about taxation as a social and legal process and how laws have different implications for different communities,” says Stuart. “Essentially, we would provide a springboard for further study.”
Wight thanks Salmon and Hrenyk for their due diligence. “I basically lent the technical expertise and they made sure the material would be acceptable to the students,” she says.
According to Salmon, the research involved talking with Indigenous entrepreneurs about their tax experience and reviewing existing literature on the topic, then extracting themes that they thought would help students see the big picture. “Jordyn and I were extremely careful to develop content that would be inspirational rather than preachy,” she says.
Hrenyk adds, “We both know what it’s like to sit in business school classrooms and ignore the issues of our communities, and I’m glad that through this project, we have been able to make positive changes for the Aboriginal students who sit now. where we once were.
The course, which launched in May 2022, incorporates material on First Nations governments managing their own revenue systems, as well as how Canadian and provincial government tax rules apply when a landlord aboriginal business operates on or off reserve.
“It’s all about awareness,” says Wight. “Doug has many international students, and I think there will be a lot of telling moments in terms of how tax regulations are applied in Canada.”
Stuart says he is excited about the launch of his fourth year tax course and adds, “I hope a local elder will be willing and available to assess the results of our project and provide feedback on the course materials. This is important to us because the cultural wisdom shared by Elders will greatly benefit the project.
Its ultimate goal is that the course be imitated. “I would like it to be widely adopted,” he says. “Given the growth rate of Indigenous businesses, it is critical that Indigenous tax issues be taught in our higher education institutions. Indigenous and non-Indigenous tax practitioners should also educate themselves on the details to support all business owners in Canada.
For his part, Wight does not exclude new collaborations: “We will see how this first course is received. We have high hopes, and if there’s enough interest, who knows? There may be opportunities for expansion. And I will be happy to participate.