Porcupine Podcast Episode 5: The Role of Taxation in Reconciliation, with Manny Jules.
Michael and Merrell-Ann sit down with Chief Commissioner Manny Jules from the First Nations Tax Commission. They discuss how taxes play a role in reconciliation. Manny also explains why he embraces the word “tax” and talks about how the Chinook word “taksis” dates back hundreds of years.
Merrell-Ann Phare (00:03): This is Porcupine. I’m Merrell-Ann Phare.
Michael Miltenberger (00:06): And I’m Michael Miltenberger and we’re the hosts of the Porcupine Podcast.
Merrell-Ann Phare (00:09): Okay. So there’s this old joke that goes how do two porcupines hug?
Michael Miltenberger (00:14): Carefully.
Merrell-Ann Phare (00:14): And such is the story of reconciliation, at least so far.
Manny Jules (00:20): I embrace the word “tax,” it’s not controversial for me.
Merrell-Ann Phare (00:25): In this podcast series, we’re exploring reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. We’re looking at its funny, educational, touching, and difficult aspects, and also its prickly parts.
Reconciliation and Taxation
Merrell-Ann Phare (00:38): Hello. My name is Merrell-Ann Phare.
Michael Miltenberger (00:40): And I’m Michael Miltenberger.
Merrell-Ann Phare (00:41): And welcome to the Porcupine Podcast. Okay. So today we’re here talking to Chief Commissioner Manny Jules. I’ve known him for a very long time, almost 30 years, probably by now. Yeah, we were both much younger and neither of us had grey hair, I think at that time. And so welcome to the Porcupine Podcast.
We’re so interested to talk to you about this particular topic. Our podcast looks at different ways that reconciliation is being implemented in different ways. I think it’s often at this high political level. And so I was super interested to talk to you about your take on reconciliation and how it relates to taxation. Now, before we get into that though… Could you talk to us a little bit about your background, where you come from, and in particular what’s the journey from sort of your childhood and to being a taxation person?
Introducing Chief Commissioner Manny Jules
Manny Jules (01:42): Well, I’m Manny Jules, I’m a Shuswap from Kamloops, former chief. I was chief for 16 years. And that led me to the tax basically it was work my father started in 1965 while he was chief. And I picked up the mantle as a council member. Mary Leonard of course, was the chief just before me. She had to deal with what we call, the amount of automation issue, which was the provincial government that meant forcibly amalgamating over 18,000 acres of my community and adding it onto the municipality of Kamloops. We said that that isn’t good. And what’s happening to our tax. You’re the provincial government. You’re collecting it now, you’re turning it over to the city. We need that money for services to be provided to our tenants. So that’s the long and the short of it
Taxation is a controversial word in Indigenous country
Merrell-Ann Phare (02:43): Because, you know, from my history, working with Indigenous people, taxation is a really controversial word in a lot of Indigenous country.
Manny Jules (02:54): Right.
Merrell-Ann Phare (02:54): Yeah. So can you explain, what is the background behind that? Why is this, um in some cases, a divisible issue?
Manny Jules (03:03): Well, let me first say that it’s not controversial for me. I embrace, I embrace the word tax. And one of the, one of the most startling little tidbits is finding out that we understood the word and used it in the 1850s, 1860s. It was part of the Chinook jargon or Chinook trade language that we spoke in the West Coast. And so we understood the word taxes. We, spelled it a little bit differently. T A K S I S. The Chinook way. Yeah, that’s right.
Manny Jules (03:43): And so that was, that’s an important little nugget for us because in 1846, the British Commonwealth of the British government declared sovereignty in British Columbia. And that was a result of the treaty of Oregon. And so when you look at colonization, and you look at the words that were used, and what was understood, and what jurisdictions we thought we had, or didn’t have, taxes by First Nations statements are always “Oh, we, that isn’t our way. We didn’t do that.” But in fact, when you look at our history, that’s what we did. We taxed people.
What is the Real Purpose of Taxation?
Manny Jules (04:29): When they came into our territory or went through it, they had to pay a tax. If you, if you went to fish on somebody’s fishing rock, you paid, somebody some fish to hunt on that rock, you know? And so all of those things are in essence how our culture survived. And it’s my understanding that the law and the basis of that was on how we taxed ourselves and how we taxed people who came into our territory, whether it be a gold seeker, they paid the little bit of gold. If they brought cattle through our territory, they paid some cattle and so on and so forth. So tax, yes is controversial. And yes, always will be because it’s the, the ultimate balancer.
Manny Jules (05:20): Why, why did we even, you know, any culture, why do you even want to begin to tax? Well, a lot of it is about peace, order, and good government. You want to be able to have peace. A lot of reasons why people raised armies was for peace, and in a lot of communities I visit one of the, one of the biggest things they face is fear, you know, fear of going out into their community, being able to walk at night and a lot of that’s fear of what’s happening now as a result of drugs being imported into their communities.
“One of the most fundamental is peace and order and the having a good government so that you can provide governmental services.”
Manny Jules (06:00): And so their immediate fear is not peace, order, good government, but it’s fear of violence within their own community. And that isn’t right. And how do you deal with that? So you’ve gotta be able to have institutions of government that are able to provide governmental services. And one of the most fundamental is peace and order and the having a good government so that you can provide governmental services. Whether that be sewer, water, elections fair and open and accountable governments… You need institutions and that’s paid for by normally by taxes.
Manny Jules (06:43): And what’s happened because of colonization, we’ve now been completely dependent, not on ourselves, but on the Federal Government. And dependence begets dependence. So how do you break that dependence? In our case, in Kamloops, it was getting the Provincial Government to amend their own legislation, to get us out of amalgamation so that we wouldn’t be part of the City of Kamloops.
Manny Jules (07:13): And then we turned our attention to both the federal and provincial governments to have an orderly vacating of the tax jurisdiction over our lands. And we’ve been successful in getting them out of our hair in terms of a real property tax. But all of the other tax room… Still a lot of work remains to be done.
The Natural Resources Transfer Act
Merrell-Ann Phare (07:36): So the idea, it sounds like for you is Indigenous governments implementing the jurisdiction they have that I guess the other governments didn’t necessarily agree you had. But you’re implementing the jurisdiction you have over taxation as a way to be a fully operating government within the Canadian system.
Manny Jules (08:00): Well, what happened again, is, I see it, as a direct result of, of what would be considered an extract of the economy in order for the federal and provincial governments to extract our resources to build their economy, they firstly had to put us on reserves. And then that meant that the lands that we formerly occupied, they can begin to assert their jurisdiction over. And that’s recent because the natural resources transfer act, all of those things are just – a lot of people do not remember it, but know of it through historical research.
What Taxation Specifically Has to do With Reconciliation
Michael Miltenberger (08:38): So Manny, just follow up on some of this very interesting history. What would you say specifically that taxation has to do with reconciliation for people out there that talk like tax is not part of their history?
Manny Jules (08:56): If we’re moving to a phase of reconciliation, meaning reconciliation between us and the settler governments, the federal and provincial, municipal, and however else, they’re organized as a matter of fact, other First Nation governments as well. Uh that’s reconciliation. That means we’re all mature, we’re all going to be here for the rest of eternity. So how are we going to reconcile our differences?
And it goes right back to how Canada, Upper and Lower Canada reconciled their differences to form Canada. And that’s ultimately the kinds of reconciliation that we at least that I foresee in our future. Being able to sit down with the federal and provincial governments and say let’s reconcile our differences so that we can be a fundamental part of not only the, the Canadian state, but also its economy. And if we don’t do that, we’ll never be able to reconcile ourselves. We’ll always be a statistic.
So how are we going to reconcile our differences?
Michael Miltenberger (10:02): Do you have examples other than where you live, that you could point to, how, taxation has done that.
Manny Jules (10:08): Lots.
Michael Miltenberger (10:12): The best ones in your mind.
Manny Jules (10:13): Well, I’ve had the pleasure of being able to work with lots of First Nations, right across the country. And in a lot of cases, those communities, Membertou by Truro and in Nova Scotia – when I first started working with Chief Lawrence Paul, they were getting $25,000 a year as potential tax revenue. And now they’re a couple of hundred thousand dollars because of their, their approach, which was reconciling, you know, their tax jurisdiction within federal legislation and then acted sort of their own legislation that meant that the provincial government would vacate the tax field. They would be able to occupy it. They would be able to provide better services for those tax dollars that were collected by other levels of government, better themselves, as opposed to relying on someone else other communities.
How Did the Provincial Government React to Losing Their Tax Dollars?
Merrell-Ann Phare (11:10): Can I ask a question about that? Sorry to interrupt though. How did the provincial government react to losing their tax dollars? Like, isn’t that a, that’s a, I’ve seen a fundamental problem in reconciliation where it seems like one side thinks they’re losing something. And the other side at the, you know, for the other side to gain, like in that situation, it sounds like the province would have lost tax money that now was collected by the First Nation.
Manny Jules (11:33): Well, well, that in and of itself is interesting because what we had was a former Indian Affairs, a bureaucrat, a was a bureaucrat during the time of the white paper consultation in 1968, and then was elected the MPP in Ontario after that, and amended, simply amended provincial legislation so that they wouldn’t do assessments on reserve. So that was one approach in Ontario.
They just simply vacated the tax field because there wasn’t enough tax money to do, from their perspective, waste, on trying to go after the collection of, of taxes on reserve in British Columbia. It was a little bit differently because of the residential development and the commercial development that took place in basically urban areas, because the settlement patterns were a little bit different than in British Columbia. So there, it was to extract the tax money, you had to have federal legislation. So we tried for, oh, a number of years to deal with the provincial government to get them to vacate. They didn’t, we went to court, we lost.
“The only way we could change the Indian Act was to amend it.”
Manny Jules (12:46): And so the only way we could change the Indian Act was to amend it. And that led to not only the Kamloops, what we call the Kamloops Amendment, but it also led to the, the approach of the federal government to allow commercial development to take place on reserve land, which was designated lands.
So formally before the Kamloops amendment, we would have to conditionally surrender land to her majesty to lease on our behalf. That ultimately meant that we lost jurisdiction over those lands, that they weren’t considered reserve lands. And so in order to change it that’s when I started doing the work in 1985 to 88 was to amend Section 83 of the Indian Act.
And that wasn’t easy because the provincial government, the Union of British Columbia municipalities objected to that. As a matter of fact the government wasn’t prepared to move on it until right on the steps leading into the, you know, the really the final debate. And then the minister parliamentary secretary at that time said, okay, we’ll agree with the passage of the legislation.
Manny Jules (14:04): So all of this, you know, was very fluid at the time. But we’ve had about 30 years of implementation. So, yeah, and so it’s, it’s meant that we’ve collected a billion dollars of tax money from our lands that formerly went to municipalities, regional districts, counties, and provincial governments, and now it’s coming to our governments.
So that in and of itself is a substantial amount of reconciliation that you can do with a billion dollars. And then with the other institutions that we’ve created. So we not only created a First Nations tax commission, we’ve created a First Nations management board.
First Nation and Indigenous Institution Building and Reconciliation
Merrell-Ann Phare (14:44): This is what I wanted to ask you. I know you’ve always been involved in institution building First Nation and Indigenous institution building. Can you explain how, how is that relevant to reconciliation also? And in particular, because I know, more than one you’ve done.
Manny Jules (14:58): I learned about institution building as a council member. And without institutions, all of the work that we were doing every two years would disappear. So I started to learn that after my first term, Oh, we need to make sure that it wasn’t just a band council resolution that passed. We actually had a law. And then we started looking at well, okay, if we’re going to pass laws, which laws that we want, well, we want tax laws.
“We want laws that we can begin to operate and manage ourselves.”
We want laws that we can begin to operate and manage ourselves. And then of course you got to pay for them, you know, and how do you do that? So I learned early on in my political life, you need institutions. And you need institutions to carry on the work. Because in many cases like, even with Kamloops, we didn’t have the capability. We didn’t have the staff.
So how do you do that? How do you translate all of that jurisdiction to hit home, having a, an institution that actually can operate, can preserve that jurisdiction because that’s another part of it is not only do you want the jurisdiction, which is a key part of reconciliation, but you also want to be able to have certainty in terms of the jurisdiction. And so the only way you can have certainty is by having institutional development, but also having strong stable governments. Because if you don’t have that within our communities, you can’t have POG, peace order and good government.
Looking to the Future: The Cannabis Issue
Michael Miltenberger (16:31): So as you look at the landscape today in taxation is a really interesting field and all the work you’re in, what would you flag as some of the most interesting and exciting things you’re working on today, looking to the future?
Manny Jules (16:44): I’m very interested in the cannabis tax issue. And it’s all to me, it’s tax. We were left out of the cannabis legalization with bill C45. I think that was an oversight of the federal government. They had the opportunity to do it, didn’t do it. And now we’re having to deal with how do you get the jurisdiction back in the hands of First Nation communities. It’s sold. It’s a great, a lot of it’s considered a right now, great market.
You know, they were not part of the established market. And that’s what one of my life’s missions is – to try to get First Nations they be part of the market based economy. And so the cannabis issue is, is very interesting and the excise tax issue and the tobacco tax issue.
Looking to the Future: Taxation and Reconciliation
But I think realistically, for me, one of the most exciting things I’m working on right now is the First Nations Infrastructure Institute, so that we can start building stuff ourselves. And how that came into being, was it a trip to Chichen Itza in Mexico in about 30 years ago in 2000 or 1997 to witness the September fall solstice to watch the serpent come down the pyramid Elica steel.
And it was when I looked at this monument built by the Mayans over a thousand years ago. Oh, all of this was built without government funding. These were, you know, Indigenous people, building stuff built, you know, with our own engineering, with our own scientists. And they built that.
Michael Miltenberger (18:38): Amazing.
“How do you deal with the federal government’s lack of ability to be able to build infrastructure?”
Manny Jules (18:38): Its incredible. Yeah. So That gave me the inspiration that we, if we start building stuff on our own to help our economy, that’s going to change everything. That means we’ll be able to build infrastructure, business-ready infrastructure, potable water, sewer systems.
You know, if we want to build a hospital, why build one, we can build a hundred, those kinds of things. And then how do you, how do you deal with the federal government’s lack of ability to be able to build infrastructure? One recent example of what’s happening with in China, China decides, well, I’m going to build a hospital in a couple of weeks. It’s built, you know, we can’t even get rid of the boil water advisory. And so the only way you can do that is by empowering not individual communities, but collectives. So that we can begin to work together and build stuff ourselves.
Manny Jules on Achieving a Better and Balanced World
Michael Miltenberger (19:36): If you achieve everything in your life that you think needs to be done to make the world a good place for in balance, and we address all those issues, what would that world look like?
Manny Jules (19:49): I want to see a world where I don’t see elders having lack of medical care, lack of logic. I don’t want to see young girls being coerced into sex slavery. Basically. I don’t want to see our people being subjected to drugs and alcohol abuse, because they don’t have any hope anymore. I want to be able to at least give our people hope, give our people inspiration to carry on the work, because one individual can only do so much. It’s a collective of those who are willing to be able to move forward. That’s what’s gonna foster world change.
What is the Role of Non-Indigenous People?
Merrell-Ann Phare (20:34): On that piece about the one individual, a lot of non-Indigenous people wonder about what’s their role. If they listen to you and say, you know, I, I agree with that. What should I be doing to help achieve that? What would would you say to that?
Manny Jules (20:50): Well, the take for me, it’s always about philosophies. And that’s another thing I learned early on from my dad. He taught me, does he think like us, we have to be able to move at the speed of business. Right is might, that was another one of his sayings. And one of the things that he all was advocated was, was you know, making change and that started with himself. And that’s, that’s what I learned. If you, if you want to do something, you’ve got to get, you gotta get busy.
Merrell-Ann Phare (21:21): Get moving.
Manny Jules (21:25): Exactly. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. There’s just so much work and it always requires more than one individual. It’s just like the work we were doing here. We wouldn’t have been able to achieve some of the work we’re doing without a partnership with yourselves, making presentations to municipalities, making presentations to individual communities and individuals within that community. Because ultimately that’s where everything is at. You want to be able to free the imagination, and that’s individual.
A Timeframe for Accomplishments
Merrell-Ann Phare (22:02): Do you have a milestone that you will feel like, I know I’ve done this by the, at the end of this five years. Like what, where you could walk away going. Yeah.
Manny Jules (22:11): The infrastructure. In this last term, I want to get that done.
Merrell-Ann Phare (22:15): Done meaning it’s created as a legislated institute.
Michael Miltenberger (22:23): So much to do in so little time.
Manny Jules (22:24): Exactly. I’ve lived my whole life with two year appointments through elections and then three and then five among my last five year. So, well, it’ll be it formally. I want to stay involved.
Merrell-Ann Phare (22:40): Well, thank you very much, Manny, for chatting with us about this such an important topic, and we really appreciate you sharing your, your long history and very wise. So smart on this stuff. Really?
Manny Jules (22:55): I really appreciate this and let’s do it again.
Merrell-Ann Phare (23:03): The Porcupine Podcast is produced by myself, Merrell-Ann Phare and Michael Miltenberger. We’d also like to thank our co-producer and audio technician, Hannah Gehman, and our writer, Deborah Bowers, thanks to you for listening to Porcupine Podcast. We hope you return and please feel free to rate and subscribe. Bye for now.