Canada | Financial Literacy

AFOA’S financial wellness initiative: success stories from the field

At CPA Canada’s Mastering Money Conference 2019, AFOA’s Joseph Phillips will discuss some of the programs that are helping to build financial literacy among Indigenous people

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 Mother watching son place coins in piggy bankThis Dollars and Sense program helps teach students about topics related to financial literacy—everything from goal setting to saving, banking, shopping and more (Getty Images/Hero Images)

For the past 20 years, AFOA Canada has been offering financial management and leadership training to Indigenous people in order to give them the tools they need to help create a more prosperous future for their communities. And this past spring, it introduced an Indigenous Financial Wellness Initiative designed to help members in communities and urban centres to improve their financial literacy. 

Here are some ways it is helping.


For the next tax season, AFOA Canada will be hosting three-day clinics to train members in Indigenous communities and urban centres on how to complete tax returns and talk to people about the benefits they can access. Once training is complete, participants will be able to volunteer as a part of a team that will host a clinic. 

“Some communities have already held these kinds of clinics in the past and they have become very successful,” says Joseph Phillips, administrator of the initiative and speaker at this year’s Mastering Money Conference. “News is spreading through word of mouth and people are coming in and seeing what they can learn from it. So we’re taking the same concept and developing it on a larger scale.”

Members are asked to book a slot for training, which will take place from late January to early March, 2020. 

Picture of Joseph PhilipsJoseph Phillips (Image provided)


This program, which has been successfully operating since May 2019, helps teach students about topics related to financial literacy—everything from goal setting to saving, banking, shopping and more. It is geared for youth at three levels: elementary (grades 3 and 4), middle school (grades 7 and 8) and high school (grades 11 and 12).

During the courses, instructors talk with students about how they interact with money, what it means to them and how they use it in their lives. And as Phillips explains, they might also discuss topics that are particular to Indigenous and rural communities: “Let’s say some students live in a community where there is no bank,” says Phillips. “What do they do then? Where do they keep their money? How do they cash a cheque?” (Phillips adds that even online banking might not be a possibility, as many communities have no access, or only limited access, to the internet. However, it’s worth noting that both the 2019 federal budget and the Liberal platform during the election mentioned a commitment to “ensure that every Canadian has access to high-speed internet by 2030”. 

AFOA also hosts a one-day workshop to provide training for those who might want to deliver the Dollars and Sense program. 


AFOA has also held financial wellness clinics across Canada for those affected by the Sixties scoop.

As Phillips explains, any Indigenous people who attended residential schools or were taken from their families and communities and placed with non-Indigenous parents between 1951 and 1991 are eligible for some kind of settlement from the federal government.

“Many people stand to receive a large sum of money all at once,” he says. “We want to help them understand how to use it in a way that will fit with their long-term life goals.”

For its clinics, AFOA developed a booklet, It’s My Life, which encourages recipients to avoid making quick decisions and to consider what is important to them before planning how they would like to use their settlement. The booklet was very well received. 


This year, Phillips, along with CPA and independent accountant Helen Bobiwash, will join Simon Brascoupé, director of capacity and membership at First Nation Health Managers, at CPA Canada’s annual Mastering Money conference. They will be sharing some of the success stories that are emerging from the Indigenous Financial Wellness Initiative. The conference will be held in Ottawa, Ont., on November 7 and 8. Focusing on the theme of “Building resilience in volatile economies,” it will bring together thought leaders and industry experts from across the country to address financial uncertainty and how Canadians can better understand it.