First Nations taxation

I’ve been struggling with what to write next, given the unreal amount of attention my last blog post got.  I felt some pressure to use the attention to get a message out…but what do I say, where do I start?  How can I top a ‘big picture’ article like one by Wayne Spear, which address so much of what I’ve been trying to say in my responses to comments?

Well I can’t, and that isn’t my goal anyway.  This isn’t a competition for Most Important All-Encompassing Message, and I don’t suddenly have all the answers just because one blog post went viral.  So I’m going to stick to the plan.  I’m going to discuss specific topics and try to demystify them for you.  These aren’t going to be “definitive guides to” anything, but I hope to give you enough information that you can avoid letting these topics draw all your attention away from the big picture discussed by Spear and so many others.

Roll up your sleeves, nitôtêmitik!  Today we’re tackling First Nations taxation!

The short answer first:

  • The Indian Act First Nations tax exemption is very narrow and applies only to personal property and income located on a reserve.
  • First Nations pay all other taxes not covered by the narrow exemption.
  • The tax exemption only involves about 272,000 First Nations people when you subtract the number of children aged 0-14 from the potential tax paying base.
  • That number is actually even lower because a number of First Nations have exchanged tax exemption for other benefits in self-governing Final Agreements.

Indians don’t even pay taxes, why should they get my tax dollars blaaargh (head explodes)!!!!???

I’m sending you the dry-cleaning bill.  Just saying.

This is one of the most common complaints that comes up in any discussion of any news story concerning First Nations.  I am going to focus on the factual aspects of First Nations taxation more than the philosophical discussions of ‘who should be taxed’ and ‘where should my taxes go’, so I’m not going to answer your question in its entirety.

The first thing you need to know is that most aboriginal peoples don’t get tax exemptions.  The tax exemptions that do exist are linked completely to the reserves, so non-Status Indians, Inuit, Métis, and most Status Indians living off reserve, don’t get any tax exemptions at all.  That narrows down the people eligible for tax exemptions by a pretty huge margin.

In 2006, there were 1,172,790 First Nations, Métis and Inuit.  Out of that, 623,780 were Status Indians (called Registered Indians in the table). Again, I focus on Status Indians (the legal term) because later on you’ll see that only they have access to the tax exemptions being discussed here.

Out of that, about 299,970 Status Indians were living on reserve, give or take based on not-totally complete census results. [Filter by area of residence to see this.]  It is this group that account for the majority of people who are eligible for the tax exemptions under discussion.

Yeah but okay so about 300,000 – 400,000 Indians don’t pay any taxes!!!!

I hate to do this to you (no I don’t), but I can’t start this discussion until I whittle the numbers down a little more for you.  I think it’s important we keep in mind the actual numbers at play here before we decide to get hysterical about money pouring out of our pockets like a river of multicoloured polymer substrate bills.

I’m not going to point out that in 2006, [sort by age group to check my numbers] there were 196, 285 Status Indians between the ages of 0-14 for a whopping 32% of the total Status Indian population, significantly decreasing the population of potential First Nations tax payers.

I’m not going to mention that the number of Status Indians  on reserve who would even be eligible to pay income taxes absent a tax exemption, was only 198,310 [change the filter on ‘area of residence’ and then filter by age group]. Unless you think kids aged 0-14 should be included in the labour force and paying income tax. (“But their tiny hands are ideal for polishing the insides of shells!”)

Or, if we are more generous and assume there are actually about 400,000 Status Indians living on reserve and 32% of them are under 14, then it’s 272,000 people that would be eligible to pay income taxes absent the tax exemption. That is also assuming you can actually work until you die of extreme old age, paying income taxes all the while.

I’m not going to point out that this number is pretty reliable year after year, given that the birthrate among First Nations people is pretty high, keeping the 0-14 age group amounts steady if not increasing each year.

I won’t finish up highlighting the fact that what we’re actually talking about here is about 272,000 people across Canada who have access to Indian Act tax exemptions, because I suspect the total numbers aren’t the issue so much as the principle of the thing.

I’m not even going to bother with that stuff, because I want you to know that there are more than 120 First Nations communities across Canada that have an on-reserve property tax regime, generating about $70 million in revenues annually.  A list of those reserves can be found here, organised by province.  The taxes are collected by the Bands, and used for the Bands.

In addition, there are communities that have negotiated self-governance and other alternate tax regimes with the federal government so that the Band levies things like the First Nations Sales Tax, the First Nations Goods and Services Tax, and/or the First Nations Personal Income Tax.  In the Yukon Territories, for example, 11 out  of the 14 First Nations are no longer tax exempt under self-governing Final Agreements.  This reduces the total number of people actually eligible for Indian Act tax exemptions even more.

This doesn’t affect the overall question you have about who should pay taxes and where that money should go of course, but I thought you might like to know that out of the 616 First Nations reserves in this country, close to 20% of them have a property tax regime, and some of them have even more comprehensive taxation regimes in place.

Whoopdeedoo, so a few of them pay property taxes (and a few other taxes) that don’t benefit me at all, what’s your point?

Well the claim that is often made is that First Nations don’t pay any taxes at all.  That might not be the real issue, but it’s certainly worth addressing so that more people understand the reality of the situation. I hope you don’t mind if I continue then.

I am going to quote INAC here (now the unpronounceable AANDC):

In general, Aboriginal people in Canada are required to pay taxes on the same basis as other people in Canada, except where the limited exemption under Section 87 of the Indian Act applies. Section 87 says that the “personal property of an Indian or a band situated on a reserve” is tax exempt.

Alright.  Do you have your Timmy’s coffee ready?  I feel like using a list format to break this down for you.

  • This tax exemption applies to both federal and provincial taxes like income and sales taxes.
  • Non-status Indians are not eligible for this tax exemption.
  • Status Indians who don’t live on reserve are not generally eligible for this tax exemption, unless they are purchasing goods and services on reserve or are employed on reserve.
  • Goods that are purchased on reserve are exempt.
  • Goods that are purchased off reserve and are delivered to the reserve by the retailer’s official agent are tax exempt.  If a Status Indian wants to transport goods back to the reserve, then legally they are not exempt.  Taxes on meals, movie tickets, and a host of other things that couldn’t conceivably be brought back to the reserve are also not tax exempt.
  • Services provided on reserve are tax exempt.  Services provided off reserve are not tax exempt, unless under Section 90 of the Indian Act, the services were purchased with “Indian monies”.  That means ‘official Band monies’, used for things like off-reserve lawyer fees, accountant fees and so on.  Average Band members aren’t accessing those funds, so the services they purchase aren’t tax exempt.
  • Income is considered ‘personal property’ if it’s earned on reserve.  Once you work off reserve, that exemption does not apply and you’re paying income taxes…even if your employer is situated on the reserve.  If your duties are off-reserve in nature, it’s off-reserve income and taxable.  Are there some nitpicky exceptions?  With taxation there always are, but this is the general rule.
  • First Nations corporations and trusts don’t qualify for the Section 87 tax exemption.  INAC explains this pretty well, pointing out that legally a corporation is a separate ‘legal person’ and is not therefore an “Indian”.

Do you have more specific questions about taxation as it relates to investment income or other areas?  Feel free to look into it!

Hold on, I know for a fact that some people using their Status cards for point-of-sale exemptions aren’t living on reserve or having goods delivered there, what gives?

There are a variety of provincial  policies that attempt to make point-of-sales exemptions less painful for all involved.  Some of these policies were created to deal with confusion surrounding the implementation of  the Harmonised Sales Tax (HST) which blends provincial and federal sales taxes. These policies respect the specific exemption we’ve been discussing here, but may provide more relaxed enforcement policies for the provincial portion.

For example, some provinces waive the enforcement of the delivery rule on the provincial portion of the sales tax, allowing a First Nations person to transport goods to the reserve his or herself.  Part of the reasoning here is that requiring delivery to be made by an agent of the vendor has the potential to negate the exemption, as any savings incurred are eaten up by delivery fees.  Other provinces have harmonised their provincial policies with federal policies.

I mention this because the issue is confusing.  Many salespeople do not really understand the exemption and the limitations on it, and some First Nations people aren’t totally clear on it either.  The implementation of this tax exemption can then run into practical problems when people either intentionally or unintentionally mess up how the exemption is applied.

However, the issue is what the legal exemption actually is versus what many believe it to be.  It is important to understand the actual legal exemption rather than characterising the issue by the instances of ‘cheating’.

Even if every single Status Indian in this country (including infants at the breast) were to abuse point of sale rebates, we’d be talking about 600,000 people at most ‘cheating the system’. How many people cheat the system beyond that, claiming fake work expenses, not declaring tips, not declaring other income and so on?

Tax evasion is not unique to any group of people, it is a wider reality.

That still means a bunch of them aren’t paying Income Taxes, which is big time revenue!

I recognise that personal income tax revenue accounts for over 20% of total revenue federally and 15% on average provincially (with a range from 2.3% to 26.6% depending on the province or territory).

Sales taxes account for 11% of total revenue federally, and 8.4% on average provincially (with a range from 0% to 16.2% depending on the province or territory).

This is what a lot of people think about.  Money that isn’t there because of the tax exemption.  Potentially a lot of money not going into public coffers to help pay for social programs.

This argument dismisses the fact that there are other segments of the Canadian population that do not pay income taxes either.  I am not going to look up raw numbers on this, because I think it is beside the point.

No way sister!  It IS the point!

Here is why I disagree.

I think there are two possible arguments you are making here:

  1. You think that people who do not pay income taxes or sales taxes, should  not then be eligible for programs paid for from those tax revenues.
  2. You want to have a say in where your tax dollars go.

If you are arguing point 1, then you aren’t just talking about First Nations people.  Not if you want to approach the issue honestly.  If you believe that only people contributing to these particular tax revenues should receive social programming, then you and I disagree on a fundamental philosophical level that is beyond the scope of First Nations taxation.  I’d even suggest you disagree with a general Canadian belief that does not link individual taxation amounts to eligibility for social programming.  That generalised discussion should be engaged in elsewhere, not merely trained on First Nations people.

If you are arguing point 2, then again you are engaging in a topic that is far beyond the scope of merely First Nations taxation.  There are any number of arguments you could make about how you, the individual tax payer, should be able to direct the spending of your tax dollars (“Why should I pay for programs I will never access?” being a common complaint).  However, the fact is the Canadian government has set up a particular tax spending regime that you have minimal individual control over.  Once more this issue should not be narrowed to only apply to First Nations.

Okay fine, even if I accept that, why do Status Indians living on reserve get this tax exemption in the first place?

Allow me to once again quote INAC on that:

  • A tax exemption for Indian property situated on reserves has existed since before Confederation.
  • The Supreme Court of Canada has stated that this exemption is linked to the protection of reserve land and property.
  • The Court has concluded that the purpose of the exemption is to make sure tax does not erode the use of Indian property on reserves.
  • The Court has indicated that this tax exemption is not intended to remedy the economically disadvantaged position of Aboriginal people in Canada or bring economic benefits to them.

This may not satisfy you.  If that is the case, then you are going to have to delve deeper into the history of this country to understand why this tax exemption was set up.

What I have just said might also not satisfy you.  Perhaps you came here figuring I would answer all your questions.  So can I ask you a question?

Why are churches tax exempt?  Why are non-profit corporations tax exempt?  Can you provide me with a quick and satisfying answer without a historical and sociological explanation?

Fine but I’m still not happy about this!

My main purpose here was to address the claim that “Indians don’t pay taxes”.  It isn’t an accurate statement at all, and I hope you understand this better now. The various justifications for the narrow tax exemption that does exist are more in the nature of a historical and philosophical discussion that can be had elsewhere or at another time.

If you had anywhere near the amount of coffee I’ve ingested while writing this, you’ll probably appreciate this being wrapped up now!  My thanks for your time.

About âpihtawikosisân

Métis from Lac Ste. Anne, Alberta. Currently living in Montreal, Quebec. Passions: education, Aboriginal law, the Cree language, and roller derby. Education: BEd, LLB, working on a BCL
This entry was posted in Aboriginal law, First Nations, INAC and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

53 Responses to First Nations taxation

  1. Nicole says:

    I don’t personally believe that First Nations and Inuit people living in Canada should have to pay any taxes at all…. after all we’re living on their land. Besides land, European colonial policies and programs took a lot more…. including culture and identity (and now we LOVE to use first Nations and Inuit culture as a tokens of our own national identity!)

    • Tanya says:

      I completely and totally agree with you Nicole. I don’t think First Nations people should pay taxes at all. It spits in the face on what they have already been forced to lose to create this country called Canada. People who can’t see that are ignoring Canadian history (and may just be using this tax issue to cover their racism).

      âpihtawikosisân, thank you so much again for clarifying and addressing questions of people who are unfamiliar with FIrst Nations issues.

    • Philosophical discussions about the nature of taxation aside, it is a good source of revenue, and a lot of First Nations have implemented, or are considering implementing, some sort of taxation regime. I think the main issue in these situations is not that ‘taxation is bad’ but rather, ‘we’d like to control it on our territories and benefit directly’. It is just one of the possible tools available to communities who want out from under the Indian Act, but it isn’t the only one.

      That was a bit rambly, just thinking out loud here 🙂

      • Bekka says:

        I completely agree with the “we’d like to control it on our territories and benefit directly” statement you make in your comment. I think, given the way that some reserves are so profitable (thinking of Westbank in BC) and others are almost completely impoverished (like Attawapiskat, or even some of the reserves here in northern BC), there are many different variables that determine how effective a reserve can be at preserving culture, preserving land/territory and also creating a safe place to live. Having access to funds that the feds don’t have to approve the use of can be a big contribution to the success of a community.

        But that problem isn’t restricted to just First Nations. No, rural and remote non-Native communities often suffer in similar ways, although usually not to the same extreme.

        I’ve really enjoyed reading your take on these issues. You have a calm, clear communication style and it is something that is often sorely lacking in the discussions regarding First Nations.

      • NIcole says:

        That makes complete sense to me – autonomy. I was just thinking about the idea of First Nations peoples paying taxes that go towards things like…. building mega prisons.

      • Tanya says:

        No, you made a very good point, and I agree with the “control it and benefit directly” part. Everyone here has great comments.

  2. Becs says:

    It was First Nation’s (FN) land before the Europeans, but it may have been someone else’s land before the FN ancestors arrived. Land ownership is ever changing. Many FN beliefs are (were) completely against the idea of owning anything – things were shared, people were nomadic, they were the caretakers of the land etc.

    Our current situation with reserves is not working. Why? Because communities are becoming less and less self sufficient/accountable. They are completely relying on outside sources of money/resources. Many nursing stations/hospitals/schools/water plants are staffed by outsiders, people do not pay for their houses, so many have no motivation to keep them in order. Very few sources of food are actually harvested/hunted around the reserves. There are few paying jobs for the peoples on the reserves – not that there are not jobs to be done (garbage pickup for example).

    The Indian Act? Racist. It was written by Europeans who thought that white people were inherently smarter than other races. Many pieces of the Act have undertones of “Indians are slow, they will never be self-sufficient, they need the white man to live, they do not know any better”.

    The cycle of dis-empowerment needs to be broken and it will not be done by the feds. It needs to be done by the people.

    • “Many FN beliefs are (were) completely against the idea of owning anything – things were shared, people were nomadic, they were the caretakers of the land etc.”

      Just a few quibbles here. Not all First Nations were nomadic, that’s a big misconception. Many west coast nations for example had permanent villages. The Iroqouis had large urban centres (large and urban for that time, obviously no skyscrapers :D).

      Most First Nations were not against the idea of owning anything, but rather the principles of ownership in First Nations cultures is different than what you’ll find in European cultures. For instance, in Plains Cree culture, the women ‘owned’ the tipis. Meaning they were responsible for them, and were in charge of setting them up and so on. It does not mean that men had no home ownership, resulting in a fundamental lack of power. The point is, ‘ownership’ is an English word with English cultural connotations and so it is accurate to say First Nations didn’t have English cultural notions of ownership…but it is inaccurate to think this means there was NO ownership of any kind.

      I just wanted to put that out there. Generalisations can be helpful in a discussion so that we aren’t bogged down in details, but some generalisations become myths, and these two generalisations have definitely gained myth status in the Canadian consciousness:)

  3. Ed says:

    A quick read-through of this taxation information makes it almost feel like there is an international border separating reserve and off-reserve … leading one to believe that reserves actually belong to another “nation” … wait a minute …

  4. Mark says:

    Ther are a lot of Staus natives living off reserve use their cards to get point of sale tax exemptions. Most of them are actually white folk (you somehow can be status yet 3 out of 4 grandparents or even 7 out of 8 great grandparents can be european – try wrapping your head around that one)
    a fellow I know just got his status and even though his reserve is 500 km away, he is buying a car and having it delivered to a near reserve to get the tax exemption.
    this is illegal but the government ignores it, just like white folk working under the table.
    My only real beef is the selling of tax exempt cigarettes to children, which is happened all over Northern Ontario. Native leaders need to take a stand, because that is not exercising soveignty, it is simply wrong.

    • Status is very strict in Canada and yet many people have misconceptions about it. I’ll explain it in more detail later but no, these people are not ‘actually [not-native]’. While not officially based on blood quantum, in essence Canadian Status requirements are more strict than US requirements, and you can lose status in just two generations of out-marriage.

      As for getting exemptions when not living on reserve….some people living in Alberta like to have their cars insured in Saskatchewan because the insurance is cheaper. Just because some people get away with this, does not mean that Alberta law states this is okay. If Alberta does not stamp all of this out, does that mean Alberta is not exercising sovereignty?

      • Fabs says:

        In Alberta, you need the following below. So if you are from any other province you can not get tax exemption- even if you have status card.
        Parties Eligible for the Alberta Indian Tax Exemption (AITE)
        A party eligible for benefits under the AITE program may be one of the following:
        an Indian, as defined by the Indian Act (Canada), 16 years of age or older;
        an Indian band, as defined by the Indian Act (Canada), whose reserve is partially or totally located in Alberta; or
        an Indian band whose band office is located in Alberta.
        No incorporated entity is eligible for the Alberta Indian Tax Exemption.
        Federal law prohibits anyone under the age of 18 years from purchasing tobacco, tax-exempt or otherwise.

  5. Sherri chisan says:

    Thanks for posting your thorough and insightful analyses on all these topics. Will be sharing with students at our Indigenous College in treaty six territory. Just want to know if you submitted your article on Attiwapiskat to the National post or if they “borrowed” it?

  6. Chris says:

    Thanks for your informative blog posts – I have to say that my experience with tax-exemption for retail goods is different from what you have posted.

    At the local Walmart (and other retailers) there are many Native people using status cards to make tax exempt purchases of items that certainly are not being delivered to reserves by the retailers – the purchasers are picking up their bags and walking to their cars.

    I’m not complaining – but you have to acknowledge that the reality is slightly different than the letter of the law for whatever reason.

    • The reality is often different from the letter of the law. I think that many retailers themselves do not understand the tax exemption. I have found that in many cases where point of sale rebates are not in place, First Nations people have a heck of time getting the tax exemption replied, and it quite often requires a lot of paperwork and discussions with people who have never dealt with it before.

      To me, the issue is not about people ‘cheating’…because you look at any tax law and you will find people intentionally or unintentionally violating the rules. The issue is about the idea many people have that aboriginal people don’t pay any taxes. Even if every single Status Indian in this country, including infants at the breast, were to abuse point of sale rebates, we’d be talking about 600,000 people at most ‘cheating the system’. How many people ‘cheat the system’ beyond that, claiming fake ‘work expenses’, not declaring tips, not declaring ‘other income’ and so on?

      Tax ‘evasion’ is not unique to any group of people, it’s a wider reality.

    • Are you in Ontario, by any chance? Ontario has broader point-of-sale exemptions that are strictly required by the Indian Act.


      • Quebec. This has to do with the reaction to problems with the HST which was worrying Ontario First Nations rather than being a broader exemption. Policies like these merely cut down on the amount of paperwork a Status Indian would otherwise have to fill out.

        • Sorry I should’ve been clearer. The “Are you in Ontario?” question was directed at Chris, because I thought the HST point of sale exemptions might explain the difference between what he sees happening at stores and what you described above.

          As I understand it, the HST makes it somewhat easier to get point-of-sale exemptions (if you read through the link, it appears that just about any personal property bought off-reserve that’s not listed as excluded from the exemption qualifies, which, unless I’m misunderstanding what you’ve said in the main post, is a bit broader, although there are still a lot of things that aren’t exempt), and saves the Ontario government a lot of money on administering the HST.

          I also want to just thank you for posting this – it’s really informative.

        • Just to be as super-clear as I can: The link I posted isn’t really a change in policy, it’s explaining how you get exemptions for the provincial portion of the HST, which was the same as how PST exemptions in Ontario worked before. As best as I understand it, there are a number of personal property type goods that Status Indians in Ontario can get exemptions to the provincial portion of the PST on (purchasing off reserve) that they can’t get for the Federal portion, and which wouldn’t qualify for exemptions outside of Ontario.

          If I’ve misunderstood this (which is eminently possible), I hope someone who knows better can correct me.

      • I wanted to add something to this. Provinces or even municipalities that have a significant number of First Nations customers tend to be more familiar with the tax exemption, and are more likely to provide point-of-sale exemptions. Places that are not so familiar with the issue often do not have any set policy for dealing with this and it can be confusing/frustrating for all involved.

      • Chris says:

        I am, in fact in Ontario and I thank you very much for pointing this out to me – I never understood (like many others in my Northern Ontario town) why the tax exemption was happening for good that were clearly not being delivered to a reserve.

        Now I know and look forward to sharing this new knowledge.

  7. Emo says:

    Hey, I remember when this was a nice, quiet blog about Cree linguistics, with the occasional rant about the rising cost of eyeglasses.

    The level of effort you’re putting into the blog is, I.M.O., better of being put into a bound-volume (i.e., a book)… and, believe it or not, the format of the blog deters me from commenting or contributing here (unless we’re going back to talking about the use of the distributive locative, or something else related to Cree as a language).

    However, for a single-citation comment, I’d just mention that I find it peculiar that none of the various sides in “legalizing” debates seem to pay much attention to “The Gradual Civilization Act” –i.e., an act that predates Treaty 1 (and, thus, all of the numbered treaties) and gives a real sense of the “intent and assumptions” of the British side of the bargain.

    • Emo says:

      BTW 1, I had just one professor who drew up a quantitative estimate of how much it was costing the city of Toronto to waive property taxes for churches in the city. He’s still the only person I’ve ever met who sincerely supported taxing church property; of course, this would also lead to the Church selling off land that did raise enough “revenue” to pay the taxes (i.e., possibly a good thing). But, as you’ve alluded to, this is the sort of question that just never gets asked: neither career bureaucrats ask it, nor does anyone run for elected office with the promise of taxing the church.

      BTW 2, I realize that I just alluded to the numbered treaties and the Gradual Civilization Act without using any words such as “bad”. Once in a while I forget that disapproval is not the default or universal mode of discussing these things. Please read that as if such condemnation were implicit, scil. “…[it is] an act that predates [the evil] Treaty 1 (and, thus, all of the [evil] numbered treaties) and gives a real sense of the [evil] “intent and assumptions” of the [evil] British side of the [evil] bargain.” etc.

    • More people are likely to read this than pay for a book I think…and my intention isn’t to make money, it’s to get information out there widely. The internet allows that in a way that a regular book cannot:)

      I remember the quiet days too, and sort of miss them to be honest!

      • Emo says:

        I can reassure you that most books don’t make money.

        Conversely, they have the advantage of (at least) retaining the author’s name correctly. I don’t think that old-fashioned paper publishing would have ended up attributing your work to Brett Hodnett (¡surreal!).

  8. Lauralee says:

    I am dying to know whether you gave the National Post permission to repost your work as appearing to be that of Brett Hodnett?

    Have you seen the article at Brett Hodnett: The real math behind Attawapiskat’s $90 million?

    • They did not ask me for permission, no. Even other bloggers who have reposted this article have generally asked for permission first despite the fact that my license does not require it. Pretty much everyone has done a good job of attributing it properly. I would expect no less of a national publication.

      From a quick survey of other works by Brett Hodnett, I’m not willing to assume he intentionally passed this off as his own work. I suspect he may have forwarded it to the National Post and the editor was not rigorous in finding out where it came from. Hopefully they will attribute it properly, or remove it from their site.

      • Lauralee says:

        Thank you for clarifying – I hope you don’t mind, but I had a blog post sitting in drafts about this and now that you have confirmed what I thought, I edited a bit and hit publish.

      • Chris says:

        There is a link back to your blog way down at the bottom.

        • Sure is. Nonetheless, if I were to see this for the first time I would assume the author was the one included in the by-line. I might also be so tired of clicking on links up to that point that I wouldn’t bother to check.

          It’s misleading, but beyond that it’s not a huge deal imo.

  9. Gail Taylor says:

    I do not know how you can do this. How can you reach out to people and try to share some truth with them and then read those hateful remarks on the National Post. I got so angry I had to close the site and would not even dignify it with a response. They even had the audacity to pretend the words were theirs. How do you go on? I try to talk to people and I get the same kind of misinformation as appeared in the National Post comments. How do you deal with the hurt to know that the vast majority of Canadians just don’t give a damn? How do you keep holding out a hand of understanding? You are a much stronger and more forgiving person than I. I really admire you. If I am the only voice you hear today, hear that I am proud of you and what you are trying to do.

    • Tanya says:

      Umm, I sort of wanted to say, I think the majority of Canadians do give a damn, it;s just they do not have the right information.

      Also, if anyone has ever had to deal with racism they have to learn how to deal with the stuff you just asked about. Also, anyone also who has to deal with racism has to be understanding since that is only way things will get changed. I do really appreciate how âpihtawikosisân highlighted that many services that are provided by the provinces, are provided by the federal government on reserves, since many many people do not know that. It seems very clear to me that the federal standards for infrastructure are extremely low, and their management of this whole system is terrible.

      Again about paying taxes, why should the people pay since they will probably never see a return on those tax dollars anyway if the Federal governments track record is anything to go by. At least I can count on electricity and running water infrastructure for my taxes. People on reserves can’t.

      I am really appreciating the intelligence of the commenters along with âpihtawikosisân. (I hope you do not mind, I have twittered, facebooked and post a link to your blog one message board so far.)

    • I’ve been hearing the same kinds of comments my entire life. Either you learn to ignore them most of the time, or you become too bitter to enjoy life. I think a lot of people will say these things when they aren’t speaking face to face with a real person. Some will say it to your face, mind, but in the main human interaction makes all the difference. The human interactions I’ve had remind me that most people aren’t horrid, hateful, angry bigots. They are normal people with misconceptions that can be corrected.

      So. How do I do it? I focus on the positives, of which there are many…and I take breaks when the negativity gets to be too much.

  10. Sean says:

    Beautiful writing – thanks for sharing and enlightening things! All the very best.

  11. Pingback: And this is what ‘we’ do…. | IC Soapbox

  12. Ham Banner says:

    I just wanted to mention something that people may find interesting about New Brunswick. Status Indians must pay consumption tax (HST) on all goods purchased, unless they have it delivered by a particular company.

    From a court ruling on the issue: “New Brunswick’s Social Services and Education Tax Act levies a tax on items sold for consumption at the time of the sale. In 1993, a provision giving status Indians an exemption from paying provincial sales tax on goods purchased off‑reserve for on‑reserve use was repealed so that only goods and services purchased on reserve lands or delivered there by the vendor were sales tax exempt.”

    New Brunswick has taken the step to deny tax exemption to status indians unless they have the goods delivered at their own expense directly to the reserve. They cannot merely show a “status card” and claim their exemption. The courts in NB contest that the tax exemption only applies when the location of the transaction is on the reserve itself and does not extend to transactions that occur off the reserves.

    In this way, many status indians in New Brunswick pay taxes when they purchase goods because their tax savings is eaten up by delivery fees to the reserve. It’s a hidden tax, if you want to consider it that way. I’m not sure if any other provinces have done anything similar.

  13. korahomes says:

    Consider writing a book a donate to a cause noteworthy to help those you are advocating for. Your words are strong but that action will be as strong.

    On another note, do you know of any resources I could look at to familiar myself with the Canadian governmental system. I am greatly interested in your posts but it is hard to break down as I am unfamiliar with terms, etc. I’m drawing great comparisons to how things work with the United States. 1) I was unaware they had reserves, which I am guessing is similar to the reservations of the United States and Australia. But I cannot figure out if the Nations are sovereign as they are to be in the United States. I’m also guessing if they are sovereign, this must vary greatly from each reserve as it does here too.

    Thank you for enlightening me.

  14. Doug says:

    I have argued this point numerous times and well said by you. I pay taxes because I like to work and i like the place i work at. I have also worked where I did not pay taxes. Taxation is part governent. We live in a society today where we can remember and cherish the traditional ways but we will never go back to them, we must move forward. We have embraced this system for so long, depended upon it, now is the time to use it to our advantage.

  15. Crystal W. says:

    Great article. I would have loved to see the further break down of tax exempt incomes. How many on – reserve people are unemployed, which is, of course, most!, and how many make less than a taxable amount that would be given back after they file their taxes in April, which is, again, most!. It is always a favorite game of mine on comment sections addressing this very issue. Will share this awesome piece!

  16. Joyce says:

    You have a great gift, Apihtawikosisan. Thank you for exercising it and shining such a bright light. I have paid taxes all my life and attempted to confront those who angrily tell me that Indians don’t pay taxes. Now, thanks to your writing and sharing I have some better armour; the reflection might spring back to the speaker. Please keep up the great work.

  17. Rick says:

    I think it is great that you have inspired so much discussion and thought by so many. Some people will never look beyond the sound bite or preconceived notions they hold but I believe one has to start somewhere, and you have made a great start. FYI, here are a few numbers that i have run to add perspective:
    (Population and budget figures from Wikipedia)
    Ontario budget expenditure – $129,000,000,000
    Ontario population – 13,100,000
    Expenditure per person – $9,847

    Federal budget expenditure – $280,500,000,000
    Canadian population – 34,673,000
    Expenditure per person – $8,090

    Total expenditure per person in Ontario by Federal and Ontario Government – $17,940

    Expenditure on Attawapiscat by Federal and Ontario Government (from audited statements)
    Indian and Northern Affairs – $17,064,573
    Health and Welfare $ 1,340,260
    Ontario $ 4,730,435
    Total $ 23,135,268
    There are over 2800 members of Attawapiskat First Nation, but the local on-reserve population was 1,929[3] in 2010 (from Wikipedia).
    Total expenditure per on-reserve person in Attawapiscat by Federal and Ontario Government – $11,993

  18. don says:

    Great blog…thanks. Can’t believe the amount of time and effort you put into this. And it is so good to read comments that were not angey and meanspirited.

  19. Pingback: Attawapiskat : Third Party Manager | IC Soapbox

  20. memebot says:


    I just came across this post on Twitter regarding funds that Bands get from the government.!/CometsMum/status/145351310118633473

    The post makes reference to this document:

    Now, the way I understand it, is that money that First Nations bands receive from the government does NOT come from Canadian taxpayers pockets but is held in trust from funds derived from natural resources, settlements of claims and fines. I’ve heard this said before, but I never actually investigated these claims. Could you perhaps clarify this point? Am I understanding this correctly?

    • Honestly…I’ve seen this said before and I have yet to see any evidence…certainly not of INAC’s budget being drawn from any trust accounts. It seems to be based on the idea that the government really did put every cent into Indian Trust Accounts and actually applied compound interest on it once that became a legal requirement. Of course, the compound interest would have to have been applied to the entire principal over a hundred years or more (no withdrawals from the Trust Accounts, when you can see that in most cases, those funds were indeed accessed over the years). In fact, many specific claims are based on mismanagement of those Trust funds. The amount referred to ($10 billion) accords with claim against the U.S. federal government claiming that the government lost $10 billion held in trust….I’ve also seen it claimed the full amount is $2 trillion and the billions of dollars are annual interest.

      The whole thing comes across as a bit hokey to me. I’ve investigated somewhat, but haven’t dug super deep. I haven’t found anything but the claim itself, repeated often in comment sections…and one reference to a court case possibly being launched on this basis back in 2009.

      I’d love to see more information, but I’m not going to chase after such a thin thread. You can’t even get the government to give you full compensation in cases where there was a clear breach…the chances of getting anywhere with this theory are slim to none right now.

      • memebot says:

        Thanks for the response. This argument was something I’ve seen brought up from time to time, but I was never certain if there was any strength to it.

  21. John Unruh says:

    Hi. I came looking for information and understanding and ended up enjoying all your comments. I’m a typical Canadian of Russian Mennonite descent. My people came to this country ignorant of aboriginal issues and many in our ethno-cultural group still do not understand what is involved, including myself, though I am attempting to educate myself. I believe the current zeitgeist of many Mennonites is that they were expunged from their rightful lands on several occasions and raped, burned, and pillaged on a genocidal level on at least one occasion. Many of them simply do not understand the concept of historic land claims. They have always simply collected what was not taken from them when things went sour and left to find another place in the world to live . Either that, or stay to die violently or starve to death. It’s a repeated cycle that is as much a part of their lore as anything else. This kind of immigration pattern is also the experience of many other Canadians, including a significant portion of the original French and British. Given this history, it may be easier to understand why many Canadians do not understand current First Nations and aboriginal issues, on the most visceral level. Their ancestors never had the opportunity to defend their rights on their ancestral lands. When these Canadians complain about tax exemptions under the Indian Act, they are not really complaining about the tax exemptions, or the money involved, they are complaining about the fact that their people also suffered and died at the hands of imperialist or other invaders, or their own governments, and nobody ever lifted a finger to compensate them or assist them after their losses. They came to these lands (Canada) and simply survived. When these same people listen to First Nations and aboriginal complaints regarding ancestral rights, they are probably more envious or jealous than anything, and because of that, frustrated. On a side note, many of them have also paid the price of losing their cultural identity as well, a bitter pill to swallow for anyone.

    Regarding the NGO and church tax exemption, I can only say that these are organizations whose sole purpose is to benefit the lives of others. Of course they should be tax exempt.

    I’m sure my own personal frustration with this discussion is showing through as well, and for that I apologize, though I will risk saying that perhaps a little empathy for the average Canadian is deserved in future discussions regarding the issues in this thread (both in this thread and outside of it). That alone would likely go a long way to encouraging more empathy from the average Canadian. I, for one, am more than willing to give it.

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