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CPA Curtis Wilson working at boardroom table
The Profession

A conversation on capacity building within First Nations communities

Indigenous CPA Carter Wilson explains the unique aspects and complexities involved in financial management for First Nations organizations

CPA Curtis Wilson working at boardroom tableIn his work at MNP, Carter Wilson focuses on developing skills internally at Indigenous organizations while offering support for their immediate financial needs (Photograph by Daniel Crump)

In 2021, Carter Wilson joined MNP’s Indigenous Services Practice after receiving his CPA designation. Born in Peguis First Nation in Manitoba, he is now a manager at MNP’s Vancouver office. In his role with MNP’s Indigenous ease’s cloud accounting and bookkeeping service team, he is working alongside Indigenous governments and organizations to build financial management capacity in First Nations across Canada and to improve the lives of their members. We spoke to Wilson recently to get an update on his team’s progress.

CPA CANADA: Why did you decide to pursue a career with MNP’s Indigenous services practice?
CARTER WILSON (CW): I have always been interested in improving the livelihood of Indigenous people as I have seen the different challenges they face while growing up. I believe there is a great need for Indigenous/First Nation financial management specialists, and I can support many different Indigenous organizations through my work at MNP.

CPA CANADA: What is different about First Nation financial management?
CW: There are many more complexities involved with First Nation organizations. For one thing, First Nations businesses and organizations face greater complexities in their day-to-day operations, such as significant funding requirements, proximity to services and resource constraints. Even something as simple as not having a bank in the community can cause additional challenges for the Nation and its members.

The structure and challenges they face can also be quite different depending on their location and accessibility. An urban Nation’s needs are not the same as those of a remote fly-in community.

CPA CANADA: What is the biggest challenge from a financial management standpoint?
CW: A major challenge is building capacity within First Nation organizations. With the historical challenges such as the 1960s scoop and residential schools, a lot of Indigenous people did not pursue careers in accounting and finance and filling senior finance roles within Indigenous organizations can be difficult.

Many First Nation governments we work with have a goal to employ their own members because they are the people who know their members best. If they can take back a lot of the accounting and finance work, they can perform better than any external provider due to their intricate knowledge of the community and their needs.

CPA CANADA: How are you building capacity?
CW: Our strategy is focused on developing skills internally at Indigenous organizations while offering support for their immediate financial needs. To do that, we offer training and work together to create space for employees of the organization to learn and take full control of their financial management.

CPA CANADA: What are the key elements of capacity building?
CW: While training is an important component, it is only one of three main elements to capacity building. The others are culture and organizational structure.

Training involves hands-on work and coaching with individuals and groups to show them how and why they need to be performing finance and accounting tasks. I don’t personally work so much on the training, although I do step in where it makes sense for a client. It’s usually in the form of giving general advice on creating better space for communication between departments to be more effective.

CPA CANADA: What do you mean by culture in capacity building?
CW: A capacity building culture is one where people are able to share their thoughts and communicate with each other, as well as growing their skills and gaining purpose.

When you are in a culture of capacity building, even smaller things matter, such as offering coaching points and a safe space for feedback. People don’t need to be worried about being judged for asking questions and seeking clarification.

When we talk about developing a culture of capacity building for Indigenous organizations, we ask them questions such as, How do you build people up to be able to take the senior roles in the organization? Are you bringing them to meetings or exposing them to what they need to know?

CPA CANADA: What about organizational structure?
CW: The key question there is, does your structure allow for people to improve their skills if they want to move up in the organization? A lot of times we find they may not have enough finance staff, so they have a team of people who are maxed out. In those cases, it might be best to add one more accounting staff, so they have time to focus on developing new skills while doing their current job.

Often we help them find ways to distribute work effectively and improve opportunities for staff to learn more in their jobs without being stressed out.

CPA CANADA: What are your current passion projects?
CW: I have been lucky to be put in charge of starting MNP’s Indigenous Inclusion Network, Wicihitowin, a network of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous team members dedicated to finding better supports for both existing and future Indigenous team members at MNP. We’re just in the beginning stages of it at MNP, but it is really rewarding for me.

I am also passionate about getting more Indigenous team members within MNP. Whether or not they want to work in Indigenous services, they should be given opportunities to explore many things. For those who want to work in Indigenous services it can be a big edge for them in their careers. It has been for me.


Find out more about CPA Canada’s Introduction to Indigenous People culture course and its CPA Martin Mentorship Program for Indigenous High School Students.