My name is Bettina Schneider and I am currently an associate professor and associate vice-president academic at First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv) in Regina, Saskatchewan. I have worked in the School of Business and Public Administration at FNUniv since 2007. I am non-Indigenous and originally from the United States. I have a PhD in Native American Studies and a master’s in Community Development from the University of California, Davis. My dissertation focused on Indigenous financial institutions in Canada and the United States. Through this research, and my work as a consultant with the First Nations Development Institute and First Nations Oweesta Corporation in the United States, I was exposed to a number of Indigenous financial institutions and the culturally relevant financial literacy curricula they were utilizing and sharing with their communities. In 2013, I began working with the Newo Yotina Friendship Centre (NYFC) in Regina on the development of culturally relevant financial literacy workshops, as the NYFC had identified a need for such services among its clientele. Thanks to a grant from the Urban Aboriginal Knowledge Network, we were able to research and develop such a curriculum for the NYFC. My work with the NYFC was the catalyst for the financial empowerment course I later developed at FNUniv and the adaptation of this textbook.


The purpose of this textbook adaptation is to take an accessible, student-focused personal finance textbook written for an American audience and make it relevant for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada. In so doing, it aims to not only help students build their own personal financial capacity, but to prepare them to help others do the same.

My greatest goal with this text is to ensure that students do not make the same mistakes that I and many people before me have made because we did not pursue or have access to financial literacy courses or resources when we were young. Financial literacy education should be a requirement for every student in Canada and throughout the world. It is my sincere hope that this Open Access textbook makes the delivery of financial literacy education more accessible and affordable for all.

Financial literacy resources do not always speak to the varied values and experiences of their audience. For example, mainstream resources may provide a review of the Canadian tax system, but make no mention of taxation as it relates to First Nations peoples. Furthermore, I believe it is important to understand our own values, histories, and life experiences in order to better understand our financial decision-making processes.  This text attempts to include the perspectives, values, and realities of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada in order to better understand our relationship to personal finance.

Colonization has denied many Indigenous people equal access to money, economic opportunities, financial literacy education, financial institutions, and much more. It was, in fact, the pursuit of money that fueled much of the conquest that colonized Indigenous people in Canada and throughout the world.

During pre-contact times, Indigenous people had a rich economic history that demonstrated strong personal financial skills. All resources—whether it was buffalo, caribou, elk, or seal—were utilized fully and nothing was left to waste. How can we apply such principles to personal finance today? As the Aboriginal Financial Officers Association of BC states, during pre-contact times Indigenous people were self-sustaining, with strong values that guided how resources and assets were used, how people traded with one another, and how wealth was shared (AFOA BC, 2011). These skills were passed down and helped many Indigenous people and communities survive the financial exclusion and cultural and systemic barriers that came with colonization.

This text attempts to share some of the pre- and post-contact histories of Indigenous people, as well as current financial information that is relevant to both Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people in Canada. It is critical that all Canadians know and understand the histories and realities of Indigenous people in Canada in order for reconciliation to be possible. I wish this book could speak to all of the varied backgrounds, knowledge systems, and experiences of its Canadian audience. For now, I have done my best with the time allotted to adapt this text to make it as accessible as possible for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada.

I have chosen to adapt this textbook in order to offer a free text that:

  • is relevant to, and can be accessed by, all Canadians;
  • is student-friendly and provides a solid foundation in personal finance;
  • includes Indigenous and non-Indigenous content in order to enhance the learning experience of all Canadians; and
  • offers a comprehensive range of pedagogical aids.


According to Jessica Chin (2017), “over half (52 per cent) of Canadians are only $200 away from insolvency, and 31 per cent don’t make enough to cover their bills, according to a recent poll of 1,500 Canadians by insolvency consultancy MNP. What’s more, 67 per cent aren’t particularly confident about their ability to handle their finances, and when it comes to debt they’ve taken on, 58 per cent wish they could go back and do things differently.” The Canadian Foundation for Economic Education (CFEE) points out that the number of students who are simultaneously attending school and working has been increasing. In fact, about one-half of college or university students will be working while they are attending school (CFEE, 2012). Early interventions and financial education will help to build financial literacy and self-sufficiency among youth so that they can make the most of their earnings and avoid the heavy debt and financial challenges that many Canadians currently experience.

In 2014, Jane Rooney, the Government of Canada’s financial literacy leader, met with stakeholders and held consultations across the country to ensure the development of a national strategy that meets the needs of all Canadians. The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada’s (FCAC) resulting national strategy sets out goals and priorities to help Canadians better manage their finances and make appropriate decisions as their needs and circumstances change. It calls on organizations to join efforts “to help Canadians take action and make financial literacy a life-long journey” (FCAC, 2015, p. 3).​ I am hopeful that such a strategy, along with an increase in financial literacy resources and the support of many public-, private-, and non-profit-sector institutions, will help Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians meet their needs and achieve the following goals outlined in the FCAC’s national strategy: 1) manage money and debt wisely; 2) plan and save for the future; and 3) prevent and protect against fraud and financial abuse (FCAC, 2015, p. 5).

According to Prosper Canada, over 1.4 million Indigenous people live in urban, rural, and remote communities across Canada. These 1.4 million people are comprised of “three distinct self-identified Aboriginal groups with diverse cultures, languages, and spiritual beliefs: First Nations (over 60 per cent), Métis (32 per cent), and Inuit (just over 4 per cent)” (Prosper Canada, 2017). Overall, the Indigenous population is young and it is the fastest growing segment of Canada’s population. A large proportion of the Indigenous population is in the early phases of financial life (e.g., finding employment, pursuing education, buying a car and a first home) and will thus benefit from early interventions and financial education that address the early life stage (Prosper Canada, 2017). Furthermore, Indigenous entrepreneurship is also growing, “increasing 38 per cent between 2001 and 2006, a rate five times higher than that of Canadians overall” (Prosper Canada, 2017). A strong foundation in financial literacy is critical to the success of Indigenous entrepreneurs. Being financially literate helps to support the overall sustainability of a business and a healthy bottom line, one with which entrepreneurs can make confident financial decisions that will benefit them and their businesses.


The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) has stated that apologies and reparations are not enough; in order for reconciliation to be achieved, real social, political, and economic change is needed (TRC, 2015). The 94 Calls to Action issued by the TRC are meant to guide this change in Canada. One of the Calls to Action is to develop culturally appropriate curricula. Culture, history, and world views are key components of culturally appropriate educational resources (Weaver, 1999). As Dominque Collins, author of Aboriginal Financial Literacy in Canada, has demonstrated, culturally relevant training has shown to be effective (Collins, 2011). In order to incorporate Indigenous world views and perspectives into this textbook, eight elders from FNUniv were interviewed between June 2017 and July 2018. Their perspectives, along with the perspectives and world views of other Indigenous people and organizations, have been incorporated into different sections of this textbook wherever possible.

The Aboriginal Financial Officers Association of British Columbia (AFOA BC), First Nations Development Institute (FNDI), and First Nations Oweesta Corporation (FNOC) have been at the forefront of the development of culturally relevant financial literacy curriculum in Indigenous communities in Canada and the United States. Both FNDI and FNOC have written extensively about the long history of traditional resource management in Indigenous communities and have compared it to financial management today. As stated in the Building Native Communities financial literacy curriculum, produced by FNDI and FNOC, “Traditional resource management teaches us that our actions today affect the resources that we will have available in the future” (FNDI and FNOC, 2015, p. 74).

As Oweesta and FNDI point out, Indigenous communities have traditionally demonstrated tremendous skill in managing resources to support the needs of their communities on an ongoing basis, as the following statement makes clear: “For years, our people have understood and practiced the present-day concepts of budgeting and savings. We managed our resources through conservation so that they lasted throughout the year by saving additional supplies for future use. Our people also saved for the purpose of acquiring goods that we could not produce ourselves. By producing more than the community needed, we had goods to trade” (FNDI and FNOC, 2015, p. 1).

However, the effects of colonization have denied many Indigenous people access to this economic history (Elder Kewistep, Video 2). By relating the past to the present, this textbook attempts to honour that rich history; ideally, this will make the information in this textbook more accessible for Indigenous students and build cultural awareness among non-Indigenous students as well.

For many, saving money can be perceived as hoarding or buying into a consumer culture that does not reflect their values. Elder and FNUniv Professor Emeritus, Willie Ermine, shared, “We don’t have a culture of saving money. . . . It’s almost a sin in our communities . . . to be one that [hoards money]” (personal communication, June 10, 2017) (Video 3).

Elder Ermine discusses the concept of the giveaway and the importance of giving “something that you treasure to get something that you need; it’s the same system as money. I can give you money and you give me what I need. [The giveaway] has been there thousands of years . . . we do ceremonies that giveaway in return for whatever it is that I need. The more we do that, the more this cycle continues. The more you give, the more you get” (personal communication, June 10, 2017) (Elder Ermine, Video 2). Elder Ermine offers these ideas as a counter-narrative to discussions of Indigenous people and financial management. While savings are important in terms of how they help you to support your loved ones and community, giving is important for other reasons, and people are often judged more so for what they give rather than what they have (Elder Ermine, Video 1B).

Another form of giveaway in the Pacific Northwest is the Potlach, a Chinook word for “give-away” or “gift,” which is a ceremony meant to give thanks and redistribute wealth. AFOA BC states that “the potlach system is an example of financial literacy in a pre-contact context. We showed our wealth by giving and sharing with others. Wealth was managed through potlach and it worked—we did not have the poverty and dependency we have today. Our people had clothes on their backs and food in their bellies. In 1884, the potlach system was banned and so were our teachings about wealth management. . . . We need to look for new ways to learn about money and how to manage it” (AFOA BC, 2011, p. 6).

Today, there are so many examples of Indigenous people, communities, and organizations sharing their financial success with others (Elder Reynolds, Video 4; Elder Cochrane, Video 2). When savings can be linked to giving, supporting, and planning for the future of our loved ones and communities, savings can be viewed in a good way. This text asks all of its readers the following questions: How can money be a positive force in your life? How can we change our relationship to money so that it can be a benefit to us, our families, friends, and communities?

Elder Florence Allen shared, “The first teachings I got regarding finance were through my parents and there is one that sticks out a lot. They said money has a purpose and you’re always the boss of it and it’s never the boss of you because if it becomes the boss of you, you become obsessed about it and you hoard it and you are not as kind” (personal communication, June 10, 2017). When talking about her parents, Elder Florence Allen said, “They only went as far as the money went. . . . We never suffered because of that. . . . Life is good when you know you can work with that money and not allow that money to take over your life” (personal communication, June 10, 2017).

Other Elders I spoke with also warned about letting money take over your life. This is easy to do when you either become too obsessed with having money or when you live beyond your means and become overwhelmed by debt and other expenses (Elder Allen, Video 1).

Through colonization, which included racially focused forms of social and economic exclusion such as reserves, residential schools, and the pass system, many First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities have experienced persistent cultural and systemic barriers that have significantly contributed to gaps in financial literacy. For example, the pass system required First Nations people to present a travel document, authorized by an Indian agent, in order to leave and return to the reserve. Those who were caught without a pass were returned to the reserve or imprisoned. The pass system also restricted those who could come onto the reserve to do business. Trade and commerce in First Nations economies were significantly restricted, which in turn limited First Nations engagement in the economy and their ability to make their own financial decisions (Cullingham and Williams, 2015).

Elder Rose Bird from Thunderchild First Nation said that she never learned about money management while at residential school:

Everything was taken away from us. . . . We didn’t know how to manage money. . . . I didn’t know how to do anything. It seemed like I was controlled. Even after I got out [of residential school], I didn’t know nothing about [money] management. My mom and dad were in residential school and also my grandparents, so they didn’t know too much about things like that either. Plus, Indian Affairs would send us a monthly cheque for food rations. . . . We didn’t get money, and even for clothing, we would order from a catalog. My mom would order us clothing for spring, summer, fall, and winter. . . . And food wise, we would buy a lot of food with Indian Affairs and there was a budget on Indian Affairs money. Lot of time when we had food rations, we’d have salt pork, and the basics, flour, lard, sugar, tea . . . so we were really poor; we hardly seen money. (Personal communication, June 10, 2017)

Elder Bird’s words are incredibly important because they explain how colonial legislation and structures attempted to control Indigenous people and create a system of dependency that denied many access to money and an education in money management (i.e., financial literacy). (Elder Bird, Video 1). According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, “most students left residential schools unprepared either to succeed in the market economy or to pursue more traditional activities such as hunting and fishing” (TRC, 2015, p. 106). As James Dashuck (2013) points out in Clearing the Plains, food was used by government officials to control First Nations. Often, the rations provided were not fit for consumption and the pass system limited First Nations to reserve lands that did not provide adequate hunting or agricultural opportunities. All of these colonial structures limited First Nations’ self-sufficiency, self-determination, and autonomy. Despite these barriers, Indigenous people demonstrated incredible resilience and continued to find ways to sustain themselves.

Elder Audrey Cochrane, from Keeseekoose First Nation, said she never saw money while growing up in the thirties and forties (Elder Cochrane, Video 1). Everything that sustained her and her family was from the land (personal communication, June 10, 2017).

Elder Norma Jean Byrd, a Métis Elder from Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, also shared how her family sustained themselves through hunting and gardening when she was a child. She also spoke of how her family made a little go a long way. One lesson she wished to share with youth is the importance of creating a will in order to protect loved ones and to properly plan for the future (Video 4).

Elder Millie Anderson, an Inuit elder from the Northwest Territories, shared that her family did not begin using money until 1959 when the first financial institution opened in Inuvik (Video 2). Prior to 1959, her family sustained themselves through trapping, fishing, whaling, and hunting (Elder Anderson, personal communication, July 2, 2018). Many Inuit relocated to new trapping areas established by traders which resulted in permanent settlements and a significant change to traditional economies (Macleod, 2016, p. 9). Elder Anderson’s father was a trapper and a reindeer herder; she often helped him on the trap lines as a child (Video 1). Any goods that were purchased were bought on credit through the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) (Elder Anderson, personal communication, July 2, 2018). The HBC was established in 1670 by the British and the North West Company (NWC) was developed in 1779 “by traders in Montréal in order to compete with HBC” (Macleod, 2016, p. 8).  Eventually, these two companies merged in 1821. Essentially, the HBC had “a fur trade monopoly that would span centuries and create a system of commercial exchange that fundamentally altered the traditional domestic means of production” among Indigenous people across Canada (Coutts, 2017).  Many Indigenous trappers took on debt by purchasing supplies on credit through the HBC “in exchange for a promise to bring their next season’s fur catch to that post” (Massie, 2008). Credit was used as a tool by Indigenous people in Canada to help meet their needs when cash wasn’t always available.

Financial empowerment is not only about building one’s personal finance skills and knowledge, but also about changing one’s financial behaviour in order to feel confident in making good financial decisions. In order to change our financial behaviour, it is critical that we understand our values regarding money. As noted by FNDI and FNOC, “it’s difficult to manage money well unless you know your values surrounding money” (FNDI and FNOC, 2016, p. 18). What are your values around money? What is your money culture? “Money culture” is what we incorporate from our values, attitudes, goals, and practices into how we manage or view the importance of money (FNDI and FNOC, 2016). In order to determine our money culture, we must look at the past, present, and future. As AFOA BC states, “We need to acknowledge our past and understand how it influenced the present situation so we can move forward to creating our future” (AFOA BC, 2015, p. 6). Financial empowerment is about taking hold of our financial future in order to achieve financial independence and well-being.

As stated in the First Nations Financial Literacy Ottawa roundtable summary report, “To support financial literacy development, we have to address the much bigger and more profound exclusions between First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities and the rest of Canada, and develop more inclusive and generative public policy” (Public Policy Forum, 2015, p. 1). Public policy, along with a culturally relevant approach to financial literacy education, can help to address the financial literacy gaps that colonization has certainly created. According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, “reconciliation must create a more equitable and inclusive society
by closing the gaps in social, health, and economic outcomes that exist between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians” (2015, p. 3).

It is my hope that this textbook provides an accessible approach to financial literacy for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people—one that examines the past, present, and future, and which fosters financial empowerment for all.


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Financial Empowerment: Personal Finance for Indigenous and Non-Indigenous People Copyright © 2018 by Bettina Schneider and Saylor Academy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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