April 17, 2023
The role of a trustee carries an important responsibility to manage and protect the funds a First Nation receives, on behalf of all community members for whom it has been established. While the universal principles of Trust management remain consistent, there are always emerging best practices and lessons to be learned.

That is the intent of the National Aboriginal Trust Officers Association (NATOA) at its annual conference, which brings together trustees, First Nation leaders and industry experts from across the country to share knowledge, plan for the future of Indigenous trusts and investments, and enhance the professionalism and accountability in the management of this important resource.

Tahltan Heritage Trust Trustee Bill Adsit attended NATOA’s 10th annual conference April 5 and 6 in Vancouver and took away several valuable insights. A focus on youth and community were common themes interweaving the presentations – reinforcing the purpose of Trusts is to preserve funds for current and future generations youth to help foster a bright future. Other key takeaways included:

  • Reasons for a Trust: The rationale for creating Trusts echoed why the Tahltan Heritage Trust (THT) was created – to achieve financial independence and economic self-sufficiency, reduce dependence on time-limited resource development, reduce reliance on external funding, and instill pride in shaping the Nation’s future. Tahltan Annita McPhee, former President of the Tahltan Central Government, was one of the speakers on a panel about Community Trusts. She shared insight into creation of the THT, including its structure and the benefits of being managed by qualified community members.
  • Involvement of Youth: Education and training of youth was stressed as the most important investment a Trust can make, because the future lies with our youth. Just as economic self-sufficiency is a goal of Trusts, so too should be self-sufficiency of its members. Youth need to be involved with the Trust and Trustees have a responsibility to engage, train and invest in youth to facilitate their understanding of the Trust. This is valuable perspective the Tahltan Heritage Trust will implement going forward.
  • Multi-Generational, Inclusive Community Focus: Involving the community in decision making about how funds should be spent requires visioning to ensure the seven generations yet unborn can benefit from the goals and dreams of the present generation. In sharing his experience settling a trust, Chief Willie Sellars of Williams Lake First Nation emphasized decisions need to be made that benefit all members of community on and off reserve while capital must be protected for future generations. These approaches have consistently guided the Tahltan Heritage Trust since its inception.
  • Trust Administrators Support Accountability: a Trust Administrator provides daily administration and works with the Trustees in managing and recording Trust business, including meetings, activities and documents. Having a Trust Administrator also fosters knowledge sharing and succession planning when there are changes in Trustees. Hiring a Trust Administrator is a short-term priority the Tahltan Heritage Trust Trustees are working towards.
  • Standard Management Guideline: there are common percentage targets that Trusts follow, which align with the targets the Tahltan Heritage Trust follows. These include:
    • 1% – Expenses (of income, for such expenses as investment management, travel and administrative),
    • 3% – Annual Distributions (of capital, to ensure funds are sustained for future generations)
    • 2% – Inflation (allocation in determining the annual fees available for distribution, which aligns with the Bank of Canada target)
    • 6% – Average Annual Target (average annual interest rates of investments)

“Attending the NAOTA conference was beneficial and informative. I heard from and had the opportunity to speak with many knowledgeable First Nations Trust Officers who shared excellent insight into their experiences establishing and managing Trusts. In addition to reinforcing the approach we have taken in managing The Tahltan Heritage Trust since its inception, I learned valuable new perspectives about how to better involve community and youth,” says Bill says. “It is comforting to know our common goal is to ensure these important financial resources are managed professionally and with accountability to support a healthy, sustainable future for our future generations.”