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Building a prosperous future for Indigenous communities

In a Q&A with CPA Canada, the president and CEO of AFOA Canada opens up about the challenges these communities face on the road to a better future

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Terry Goodtrack standing at podium“Good business is about protecting the environment,” says Terry Goodtrack. (Image provided)

As a CPA with more than 20 years’ experience in senior finance and management positions with high-profile Indigenous organizations, Terry Goodtrack has a keen sense of the challenges Indigenous communities face as they work toward a better future. Since 2011, he has been president and CEO of AFOA Canada (formerly Aboriginal Financial Officers Association of Canada), an Ottawa-based non-profit organization that provides finance and leadership training to Indigenous Peoples across Canada. 

Goodtrack also sits on a number of committees and task forces, including the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada’s National Steering Committee on Financial Literacy and the Advisory Committee of the CPA Martin Mentorship Program for Indigenous High School Students. He was recently awarded a Fellows (FCPA) designation—the CPA profession’s highest distinction, which recognizes members whose achievements and contributions, in their careers and in the community, have rendered exceptional service to the profession.

At CPA Canada’s Mastering Money Conference in Vancouver this past November, Goodtrack served on a panel devoted to the theme of Indigenous communities: Managing poverty to prosperity and the importance of understanding the language of money. Earlier this year, he was also featured in a video and profile demonstrating how his work aligns with the Canadian Ideal of Good Business.

In a recent interview, Goodtrack spoke with CPA Canada about his own background, the history of AFOA, the need for inclusivity, and some of the characteristics of high-performing Indigenous communities.   

CPA CANADA: You grew up on a reserve called the Wood Mountain Lakota First Nation in rural Saskatchewan. How did this prepare you for the work you do with AFOA today?
TG: Growing up in rural Saskatchewan, I developed an appreciation for what resources are available to such communities. Ottawa is quite disconnected from the way rural life really operates. When you are at Wood Mountain, the closest town is Assiniboia, and it’s a 45-minute drive away. For that reason, even getting groceries is a major task. You go only once a week. And in winter, it’s even worse. So I have a good sense of what these relatively isolated communities go through and the services that we need to provide. 

CPA CANADA: How did AFOA Canada come to be and how is it structured?
TG: The idea for AFOA Canada can be traced back to the 1970s. The impetus came from community-minded people who believed in improving financial skills and providing networking and professional development opportunities for Indigenous Peoples. The cause was as relevant then as it is today. The organization was opened as a not-for-profit association in 1999, so next year, we’ll be celebrating our 20th anniversary. Our conference will be taking place Oct. 2-4, 2019, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Structurally speaking, AFOA has eight chapters across Canada. These are all independent entities, operating under one umbrella. Funding comes from different sources, including registration fees and sales from products and services. Often, AFOA will go into communities to train community staff in workshop settings or online. For the Certified Aboriginal Financial Manager designation, the training can be completed online. We are working toward an in-person session for this designation as well.

CPA CANADA: In a video and profile for CPA Canada, you explained that there is a wealth gap in Indigenous communities—that some communities are quite challenged, while others are higher performing.   
TG: There is actually a spectrum. Some communities receive a majority of their funding from government programming. They are essentially managing poverty. Other communities have significant business operations. This might include joint ventures, equity stakes in companies or managing and operating companies. They are managing prosperity and wealth. 

One example of a high-performing community is Osoyoos First Nation in B.C. It has found a way to create an economic engine to bring in revenue. It does not operate on government funding alone. Osoyoos converted some of its land for economic development opportunities in the Okanagan Valley and Kelowna. It also has a golf course, hotel and speedway. The community members have managed to retain who they are. 

CPA CANADA: In the video, you also spoke about the necessity for inclusivity.
Yes, and the question is, how do we ensure that Indigenous communities are included in the Canadian economy? How do we participate in major projects? There is a lot of catching up to do. A 2011 economic report pointed out that by 2016, the GDP of the Indigenous economy would be $32-billion. It ended up being $31-billion. However, that is far below what it should be. If Canada’s GDP is $1.5-trillion, and the Indigenous population represents four per cent to six per cent of the national total, the Indigenous GDP should be $75-billion.

CPA CANADA: For you, how does the notion of sustainability relate to the notion of good business?
TG: Good business is about protecting the environment. We have already done enough harm. If we want to be sustainable, we need to find different ways to do business. 


Watch the video and profile about Terry Goodtrack to learn about how his work aligns with the Canadian Ideal of Good Business.