Nova Scotia

Campaign launched to educate N.S. businesses about sales-tax exemption for First Nations people

With the busy holiday shopping season kicking into high gear, the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaw Chiefs hopes a new social media campaign will help inform local businesses about sales-tax exemptions for people with Indian status cards.

Mi’kmaw group says some businesses are not accepting Indian status cards

Bob Gloade, chief of the Millbrook First Nation, says businesses should honour the sales-tax exemption in the spirit of reconciliation. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

With the busy holiday shopping season kicking into high gear, the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaw Chiefs hopes a new social media campaign will help inform local businesses about sales-tax exemptions for people with Indian status cards.

The exemption is mandated as part of Section 87 of the Indian Act of 1865. It applies to status Indians who purchase goods on reserve, or goods that are bought off reserve but are then delivered to the reserve.

Chief Bob Gloade of the Millbrook First Nation told CBC Radio's Mainstreet on Monday that some retailers are telling shoppers who present status cards that they must pay the tax.

"If they want to do business with other nations, then they should honour that [exemption]," said Gloade, adding the assembly is telling community members to "walk away and shop elsewhere" if their right isn't recognized.

While some large stores located near First Nations communities have a better understanding of the law, Gloade said small local businesses are more likely to honour the exemption than big chain retailers.

As part of the campaign, the assembly has crafted a letter that can be sent to retailers who aren't honouring the point-of-sale exemption and need a "friendly reminder." The letter includes images to help retailers identify Indian status cards, and notes the assembly is encouraging community members to not shop at stores where the tax exemption isn't honoured.

The assembly has also designed a sign that stores can post to let customers know they recognize the exemption.

 

Gloade said when stores add a level of frustration to transactions, it can lead many status card holders to choose to shop online or order from outside the province. 

As long as an item is delivered to a First Nations community, Gloade said, it can be a point-of-sale tax exemption. The Canada Revenue Agency notes, as an example, someone who buys a refrigerator at a store off reserve, shows their status card, and the store then delivers the appliance to the reserve.

Unlike some big chain stores, Gloade said, retail giant Amazon accepts the tax-exempt status and will provide a retroactive tax refund for up to six months. 

An example of an Indian status card. (Indigenous Services Canada)

The assembly estimates $8.2 million is being spent outside of Nova Scotia because of the hassle of dealing with some retailers, instead of benefiting local businesses and creating employment in the community.

The campaign is urging retailers to honour the tax exemption in the spirit of reconciliation.

"If you want to talk nation to nation, you want to talk about reconciliation. And reconciliation happens here," Gloade said.

"One way you could do it is honour the point-of-sale tax exemption and honour the status card at the register.

"And that way, you will gain that business and you gain that relationship and that trust. So that's how reconciliation will begin."

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With files from Mainstreet Nova Scotia

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