I see the financial statements; but I have no idea what they mean!” How often have we heard that refrain? First Nations have very complex financial statements according to Chartered Accountant, Sam Weller, of Accounting Comes Alive: “The full statements are often 60-100 pages. On top of the normal taxation and service functions of a local government, there are often community assets like housing, business activities and grant administration programs. Even trained finance professionals need to spend considerable time and brainpower to decipher the documents.”
Songhees First Nation CFO, Genny Bolyos had been charged with leading the Nation through the FNFMB certification process and had a dilemma. She needed to have a qualified audit committee made up of financially literate band members and although she had volunteers; they did not have the necessary level of financial literacy.
After speaking to someone who had done the “Colour Accounting” workshop she decided to contact Sam Weller, the workshop leader, who was already familiar with Songhees as a CESO volunteer. Accounting Comes Alive, the company which designed the courses, specializes in teaching people basic accounting using colours, shapes, a game board, and even sounds to let people discover for themselves, the five basic principles of accounting. The promise is that by grasping the accounting building blocks, the financial numbers will start to make sense to participants.
In February, Genny set up a day-long training session at the brand new Wellness Centre with two Councillors, two band members and 4 staff. “The training was fantastic” said Cllr. Karen Tunkara, “The way Sam taught the lessons was easy to understand and not bogged down in technical jargon. This will help our group, regarding the Nation’s financial position.” Audit committee member Perry Dick put it more succinctly: “Fun makes learning easier”. For CFO Genny, it was not the information about accounting that was new; but the common language that the workshop created: “I now have a framework and language that I can use to talk to Councillors and band members. I can see that we can all be on the same page now.”
“This will work for any individual or group that is interested in understanding their finances” says Sam Weller, “we are not training people to become book-keepers or accountants, we are letting them discover what accountants do, how they work and the language they use. After participating in the course they will be able to converse more comfortably and think more critically about financial issues, as well as make more-informed financial decisions.”