For nearly five months, Master of Business Administration (MBA) student Shawn Blankinship painstakingly copied data from 446 First Nations financial statements into a Microsoft Access database. He compiled what may be the only central database for 2016 financial information for First Nations in Canada, a tool that informed his thesis research on the connection between First Nation government investing policies and community well-being and how geographic remoteness and population size fit into the equation.
Blankinship, a chartered professional accountant and member of the Ashcroft Indian Band, was compelled to pursue his MBA because of an interest in how financial statement data he interacted with through his work could affect policy. After months of data entry and analysis, some of his findings surprised him. They have potentially significant implications for First Nations governance.
Blankinship measured well-being across five socio-economic areas: education, employment, income, housing and, unique to his research, knowledge of Indigenous language, which he says is an important cultural indicator. He found there is often a positive correlation between community well-being and policy promoting investment in infrastructure and revenue sources such as nation-owned businesses and economic development.
And while housing and formal education conditions in remote communities (nations with no year-round road access, or nations with road access but which are more than 350km from a service centre) with large populations were shockingly low — over half of residential houses were in need of major repair — they have retained a higher level of Indigenous language knowledge.
“It makes intuitive sense since there is less interaction with people outside the community,” says Blankinship. “It was a surprising finding — when education goes up, lower levels of language knowledge are often observed. They’re almost opposite.”
Blankinship says Indigenous languages should be incorporated into formal education programs as communities develop to curb the loss of traditional knowledge.
With his thesis presentation now complete, Blankinship is looking forward to applying his research and skills gained through his MBA.
“It’s spurred me on to learn more about my own heritage,” he says, adding that the federal passing of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the recognition of land rights and title are important steps toward fair recognition of Indigenous rights.
“I’m hoping those with a First Nations background who haven’t been in close contact with home communities will take an interest and re-engage,” he says.
Blankinship is putting his knowledge to work with the First Nations Financial Management Board. He hopes to do more research in the future and thanks Economics Professor Dr. Laura Lamb, his thesis supervisor, for her support.
“Dr. Laura Lamb has been amazing throughout this whole research process,” he says, adding that her published articles on Indigenous well-being were fundamental to his research.
Blankinship says he is more than willing to share his 2016 First Nations financial statement database with people doing similar research and hopes to see a larger, publicly available database in the future. “In the age of data, we gain so much insight and value,” he says.