Revenue Canada Taxation is a department that not many native people are aware of. In the dark not too distant past, the only real way a native got a chance to know the taxman intimately was through enfranchisement (basically giving up all your native rights so you could vote). Some native women lost their native status when they happened to fall in love with a nonnative.

Bill C-31, passed by the federal government in 1985, restored the rights they lost through enfranchisement, thereby removing some from the Canadian tax bracket.

The taxman at Revenue Canada must have noticed that a miniscule amount of money was no longer available. So they went looking for a new way to bring natives into the mainstream Canadian pastime of paying your taxes.

As of Jan. 1, native workers employed off-reserve will be faced with new rules from Revenue Canada. For the first time, they will have to pay income taxes even if their employer is reserve-based. Income tax will also be levied on employees hired by off-reserve companies through reserve-based employment agencies, a major blow to many First Nations employers.

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada recently released a report entitled, The Incidence Of Family Poverty On Canadian Indian Reserves. In this report the facts speak for themselves. “Poverty is very widespread on reserves with about half (47.2%) of Indian families falling below the poverty line,” reads the summary. This is more than three times the rate for Canada overall.

Sixty four per cent of First Nations reserves have medium incomes which fall below Statistics Canada Low Income Cutoffs. On nearly two-thirds of the reserves, at least half the people are poor.

When one is faced with these types of statistics, the expected response of government would be to correct the problem. Any child of economics would tell you that more money is needed, not less.

When residents spend money within a community, it has a multiplier effect. The money you spend for a good or service is returned partially to the community at large through other goods and services and wages. But some of the money is spent outside the community and more money is needed from the outside to replace it. For a community to grow, you need a larger amount of money. If at this moment native communities have an inefficient infrastructure to support the citizens living there, is this not a government concern that requires positive not negative actions?

Moreover, do not some activities required of First Nations have to take place off-reserve? For example, the offices of the Grand Council of the Crees have to be located in the south. The Crees maintain an office in Ottawa to lobby, consult and negotiate with the federal government; in Quebec, to lobby the provincial government; and in Montreal, to lobby Hydro-Quebec and deal with other government agencies. The same type of necessity faces companies such as Cree Construction and Air Creebec which also require people and offices down south. There are also reserve-based employment agencies which find jobs for native workers off-reserve, thereby relieving some of the unemployment and poverty back home.

If you want to do something about this or get more information, contact ACT FAIR (Aboriginal Coalition on Taxation For Aboriginal Inherent Rights), a Hamilton-based native lobby group working against government attempts to tax First Nations peoples. Contact ACT FAIR’s David Neegan at 416-522-5074 or David Maracle at 519-756-2205.