Certificate teaches tribal finance

Published On:
Monday, March 16, 2009
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The American Indian Policy Institute at ASU has partnered with two major American-Indian organizations to better prepare staff and elected officials of tribal governments on the intricacies of financial management within their governments.

The Tribal Financial Manager Certificate, an online professional certification program developed with UA’s Native Nations Institute and the Native American Finance Officers Association, intends to provide a basic understanding of federal Indian law and accounting procedures to tribal professionals.

Tribes have a different dynamic in terms of governmental accounting and management, and there is a gap in teaching these unique operating and legal issues, said Corrine Wilson, coordinator of the Tribal Financial Manager Certificate program.

“[The program] is necessary primarily because there’s a real lack of guidance in the issues [American Indians] deal with in tribal government, “ she said. “Things like special contract accounting aren’t taught anywhere else.”

Wilson, a former Native American Finance Officers Association board of directors member who has practiced tribal finance for 23 years, said she noticed the need for a program to provide tribal financial workers with “some baseline technical knowledge” while working in the field.

She noticed employees had to learn the distinctions of tribal government finance on the job and sought to establish an educational partnership to give them a head start, she said.

Officials from the three organizations involved said they expected the online version of the course to fully launch at the beginning of next year, although a trial in-class version of the program will likely begin sometime this summer.

The Native Nations Institute, founded at UA in 2001 to provide professional training and developmental programs to American Indian tribes, will add its experience in online courses, said its executive director, Joan Timenche. She said the Native American Finance Officers Association will contribute its knowledge of what professionals in the field actually need and use its established business networks to promote the program, officials from all three organizations said. Timenche said the American Indian Policy Institute at ASU will identify faculty and instructors who would be able to teach the course, and has taken the leading role in handling the program’s creation.

The certificate program will expose finance accounting professionals in tribal government programs to the environment they’ll be working before they start the job, Timenche said.

The knowledge and skills acquired in the course would give participants an edge when searching to advance their careers, she added.

“If I’m in the hiring end of it, and I’m looking for an accountant who can do the work I need to get done, I could see […] someone [who] has gone through a certificate program is going to have the edge over an applicant who does not [have accreditation], said Timenche, who has also served on the board of directors for multiple tribal corporations.

The program, which will cost about $1,800, is a professional certification course and not a class for college credit, said Eddie Brown, executive director of the American Indian Policy Institute and director of the American Indian Studies program at ASU. The course should take the equivalent of approximately 10 full days of in-class time to complete online, he said.

Participants must have a high-school diploma or GED, and at least two years of experience in the field of finance management. Most of the coursework and quizzes will be completed online, with an internship or community project at the end of the course.

Brown said the certificate program is an opportunity for American-Indian workers in tribal governments who cannot go back to school at a university to advance their professional careers.

The recent rapid growth of tribal nations is a positive sign for the future, he said, but this growth also creates the need for a more qualified workforce to manage that development. Getting more workers certified in the basics of tribal government finance would help facilitate that growth and benefit American-Indian nations as a whole.

“First, [the program] will provide workers better trained and equipped to handle financial matters of the tribe,” Brown said. “Second, by having an educated workforce, it empowers the tribes to be able to say, ‘Yes, we now have workers certified to [run the accounting and budgeting] in our government,’” he said.

Brown said the goal of creating the Tribal Financial Manager Certificate, self-governance through education, is critical to any developing group of people.

“Any time you have an educated work force in a community,” he said, “it will empower that community.”

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