New CPA education program reflects Indigenous reality
A group of faculty and organizers meet at the Indigenous CPA PEP launch at the AFOA Alberta learning center on Enoch Cree Nation in May 2023 (Esta Bee Photography)
A new way of teaching Indigenous CPA candidates opens doors to the profession that were previously blocked by the systemic barriers the program aims to reduce.
Thanks to a new CPA Indigenous education program, launched at the AFOA Alberta learning centre though a partnership with the CPA Western School of Business and AFOA Alberta, a new generation of Indigenous CPA candidates are making their way through the CPA curriculum with innovative case studies inspired by Indigenous traditions of shared learning and storytelling.
For the first time, Indigenous CPA candidates are working with Indigenous business cases, such as the young Métis woman who turned her family’s bannock recipe into a retail business, the year-end reporting work of a First Nations-owned beadwork enterprise, and an Inuit man’s professional wildlife photography venture.
The program fills an important gap because it allows Indigenous CPA students to see themselves reflected in the teachings, says Dr. Robert Andrews, CPA, CMA, project co-lead and executive director of the Aboriginal Financial Officers Association of Alberta, and a member of the Blood Tribe.
“Through all their years of learning and experience, there’s a blank in the mirror where they’re supposed to be,” he says. “The impact of Indigenous students seeing themselves in the accounting texts and material is so profound. It validates the self. It validates their culture and traditions. The impact of seeing oneself in that material is like seeing yourself in the mirror for the first time.”
DEVELOPING A ONE-OF-A-KIND PROGRAM
Designed by CPA Western School of Business, AFOA Alberta, Indigenous CPAs and CPA Canada, using extensive research, the program addresses many systemic barriers to the accounting profession for Indigenous students, providing solutions for the administrative and financial challenges they face.
The program offers in-person learning opportunities with resources for travel and accommodations, including multiple satellite locations accessible to Indigenous students living in remote areas, creating a sense of community, and providing opportunities for peer learning and support.
A report commissioned by CPA Canada last year that aimed to address Indigenous under-representation in the profession found that Indigenous CPA students were motivated to become CPAs by a sense of duty to improve financial and social outcomes in their communities, citing the alignment of Indigenous values with CPAs’ reputation for strong ethical standards.
At the same time, interviews with Indigenous CPA students also revealed structural barriers to their certification and success as CPAs.
Some of the factors they cited included social isolation and feeling like outsiders in post-secondary institutions as well as racism from stereotypes and patronizing, paternalistic attitudes in the institutions and the workplace.
Social biases like these are particularly insidious because they’re not recognized, says Andrews, adding that before they can be addressed, they need to be fully understood.
“If we continue to do the things we have done, like marginalize and assume inferiority, crafting solutions for Indigenous people and imposing those solutions on them, then it’s the non-Indigenous person trying to “fix the Indigenous problem” once again.”
The creation of an Indigenous-led CPA program aims to help address some of the barriers to success identified in CPA Canada’s research report.
“The impact of Indigenous students seeing themselves in the accounting texts and material is so profound. It validates the self. It validates their culture and traditions. The impact of seeing oneself in that material is like seeing yourself in the mirror for the first time”
AFOA Alberta partnered with the CPA Western School of Business and began to develop the program, in part, based on the experiences and shared learnings of AFOA Alberta and similar initiatives with CPA Canada.
“We came up with a list of scoping ideas, got our respective organizations and boards involved, and everybody was all over it,” says Yuen Ip, CPA, CMA, CEO and project co-lead, of the CPA Western School of Business.
The program launched in May 2023 with the Introduction to Financial Accounting for Indigenous Learners preparatory course and Core 1 Module that will both wrap up in the fall. These will return in January 2024, for a second offering, along with the new Indigenous Introductory Management Accounting course and Core 2 Online Module.
THE WAY FORWARD
While CPA Canada and the CPA Western School of Business and AFOA Alberta administer the program, the material belongs to the Indigenous people it was created for, they say. In the spirit of Indigenous philosophies around shared learning, the course content was always meant to be available for other institutions to help mitigate barriers for more Indigenous students.
The program has been termed a pilot with the intention of the CPA profession learning from it. Its evaluation metrics are not just about how well the students learn accounting, but also how well the profession learns the cultural competence to develop an Indigenous education program. The plan is to also assess barriers to implementing Indigenous programming at Canada’s other post-secondary institutions.
“It’s incredibly important to understand that more Indigenous inclusion within the CPA profession is going to make every CPA better, and every member of our extended ecosystem and business community better”
Maureen Moneta of the Metis Nation of Alberta, a CPA and member of the CPA Alberta Board of Directors, recalls a time when she felt disconnected from the profession because of her identity, but now commends the profession’s advancements toward reconciliation.
As a key contributor to the program’s curriculum, she says the program is not only about trying to help Indigenous people.
“It’s incredibly important to understand that more Indigenous inclusion within the CPA profession is going to make every CPA better, and every member of our extended ecosystem and business community better,” she says.
“Including Indigenous people and their voices isn't about helping them, it's about helping all of us.”
LEARN MORE ABOUT INDIGENOUS CULTURE
And find out how Carter Wilson, a young Indigenous CPA, is helping to support financial management capacity building in Indigenous communities.