AMS releases Indigenous finance guidelines following complaints of slow reimbursements

The AMS released Indigenous finance guidelines, based on those released by UBC earlier this year, following concerns raised by Indigenous contractors about late payments and other issues.

These guidelines come over a year after Samantha Marie Nock, an Indigenous writer hired by the AMS for a workshop, called both the AMS's and UBC's financial systems a "hindrance” to the institutions' engagement with Indigenous people. Her honorarium for leading a workshop arrived over a month late — and only after she had asked about it through multiple emails and tweets.

The AMS’s new guidelines aim to streamline the reimbursement process for Indigenous people to avoid similar situations in the future.

Problems with the old system

The AMS Indigenous finance guidelines note several problems with the student society’s old systems: long wait times for payment (often four to eight weeks), no consideration for remote communities without internet access and broken trust between Indigenous communities and colonial financial institutions like UBC due to a colonial history of mistreatment.

The new reimbursement procedure now includes a conversation about what method of payment — cash, e-transfer or cheque/direct deposit — best suits the Indigenous person’s needs.

“The guidelines are useful because some people don’t have access to a bank account, for instance,” said AMS Indigenous Engagement Facilitator Alex Vollant at the October 12 AMS Council meeting.

The guidelines also differentiate between payments and gifts or “tokens of appreciation.” The guidelines state that gifts are an important part of honouring knowledge-keepers and creating reciprocal relationships. Classifying them as “payments” can perpetuate a colonial perspective on commodifying knowledge and ceremonial practices, the guidelines read.

The new guidelines establish a procedure for immediate cash disbursement to facilitate more prompt and respectful gifting.

“Our cash reimbursements [were] only $200 for Indigenous artists,” said AMS President Eshana Bhangu in an interview with The Ubyssey in August about the AMS’s previous financial systems. “We can [now adjust] that limit to a reasonable amount.”

The new process also does not mandate that Indigenous people provide their SIN numbers to receive payment, although the AMS is still obligated to ask for them by the Canadian Revenue Agency.

Developing the guidelines and putting them into practice

The AMS Indigenous finance guidelines are based heavily off of UBC’s Indigenous finance guidelines, which were released in 2021.

Essentially, the point is to take UBC’s Indigenous finance guidelines and wherever applicable, apply them, instead of recreating a lot of the work and consultation that has been done already,” said Bhangu in August.

The AMS used the consultation UBC did rather than separately consulting with the AMS Indigenous Committee, who declined The Ubyssey’s request for comment.

When asked about why it had taken a year since Nock first publicly raised the issue of late reimbursement, Bhangu cited an “infrastructural lack” in the AMS’s capacity to process reimbursements.

“Right now, everything is done manually,” said Bhangu. “We have the accounting department who monitors one email address, and they have to keep doing back and forth with the person who's filing the reimbursement.”

According to Bhangu, the guidelines have already been operationalized to pay Indigenous participants in the AMS’s Indigenous Culture Month.

The AMS is currently transitioning to a new financial management, or Enterprise Resource Planning, system to digitize and speed up the process for all reimbursements.

According to Bhangu, all staff will be trained in the Indigenous Finance Guidelines by December.

“We're adopting new guidelines that are long overdue, but hopefully can make it easier for our subsidiaries and clubs, and as an organization to work with more Indigenous partners,” she said.

– With files from Nathan Bawaan