The Lil'wat First Nation is being heralded for its sound economic policies and transparency, with its financial director receiving recognition from a Vancouver business publication.
Neil McInnes, finance director for the Nation, was given Business in Vancouver's CFO of the Year Award, in its Transformation Agent category. The honour recognizes the achievements of senior finance leaders who make significant contributions to their organizations through strategic decision-making, delivering performance and creating cultures of innovation.
"It's always a true honour when you're recognized by your peers. It was something that was very unexpected," said McInnes.
"When I saw the email come into my inbox, and my name's associated with some of British Columbia's largest organizations and experienced CFOs, it was a little bit overwhelming for someone who is still at a relatively early stage of their career."
McInnes was instrumental in transforming the band's strategic planning and budgeting processes, and helped develop the Lil'wat's financial administration law.
In a release, Chief Administrative Officer Curt Walker praised McInnes as "a stabilizing force" with sound leadership and financial abilities.
"Neil has raised the bar in Lil'wat Nation's financial administration, improving clarity and transparency of the Nation's finances. He has taken the lead on enacting the Nation's financial administration law, which included an overhaul of our financial policies and practices," Walker said.
The financial administration law helped "set the foundation for all of our internal controls," McInnes said, and ensures "we have strong governance across the organization."
As part of that process, the Nation has revamped many of its internal policies, including the official finance policy, aimed in part at improving financial reporting and transparency.
"One piece embedded in the financial administration law is our obligation to have timely, accurate reporting, not just back to council, but back to the community members themselves," said McInnes. "As far as transparency goes, it's not only engrained in the law in the policy itself, but it's something we're actively doing now."
Another part of that law says the band cannot pass any deficit budgets, which has led to a budget surplus in each of the past two years, as well as in the upcoming fiscal year's budget. The Lil'wat anticipates revenues of around $19 million in 2016, McInnes said.
He credited the culture shift to Walker's mentorship and the Lil'wat leadership, and said he's glad to have been able to "shine a positive light" on the organization and community.
"As much as I've worked hard over the last couple years with the senior management team to put these changes in place, change only happens if the leadership wants it to happen," he said. "Each version of chief and council since I've been here has been very supportive as we've gone through changes and putting in some more of these internal controls and better reporting in place."
Nations across Canada have been under increased scrutiny since Ottawa passed legislation requiring all bands to provide audited financial statements — including salaries and expenses of chiefs and councillors — each fiscal year.
The Squamish Nation's financial practices went under the microscope late last year after an internal investigation uncovered $1.5 million in unaccounted-for funds.
In the wake of the scandal, elected officials Krisandra Jacobs and Glen Newman were officially removed from their positions in February after months of controversy.
A ceremony will be held June 2 from 6:15 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Vancouver's Fairmont Waterfront Hotel honouring each of the Business in Vancouver CFO of The Year award recipients.
Tickets range from $175 to $215.