Langara College, AFOA Canada & BC Celebrate their first cohort of Indigenous graduates in financial management

The graduation of an inaugural Indigenous cohort with a Financial Management certificate paves the way for a new generation of Indigenous financial leaders. Last month, snəw̓eyəɬ leləm̓ Langara College, AFOA Canada and AFOA BC announced the graduation of their first cohort of Indigenous students with an AFOA Indigenous Financial Management Certificate.

Langara AFOA graduating class. | Photo courtesy of AFOA Canada

“The program has always been about putting Indigenous culture first,” says Dan Relihan, CPA, CGA, and program manager of this partnership with Langara College.

This first-of-its-kind collaboration, which launched in Sept. 2021, recruited 13 Indigenous students from across British Columbia for an 18-month program that blends technical courses in accounting, finance, and management with courses focusing on Indigenous culture and values.

Blending technical skills with Indigenous values

Emphasizing the importance of both technical skills and cultural competency, the program first kicks off with a welcoming ceremony where Indigenous cultures, history and art intertwine, emphasizing the diversity of Indigenous communities present in the program.

Following the ceremony, students go on to pursue their courses at snəw̓eyəɬ leləm̓ Langara College, with the option to transfer many of their credits to either Langara College or to a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) program. Moreover, this certificate aims to be a stepping stone approach to the Certified Aboriginal Financial Manager (CAFM) designation, awarded by AFOA Canada.

Recognizing the unique challenges faced by Indigenous students, the program was completely free for students. As a result, many of these students were experiencing Vancouver for the first time without worrying about living costs.

“We did not want our students to worry about accommodation or transportation. We wanted to remove all financial barriers for them,” says Wendy Ham, CPA, CGA, CAFM and executive director of AFOA BC.

A holistic approach to education

While the program is open to students of any gender, this first cohort ended up being all women. For many of these students, this opportunity was their first ever post-secondary experience.

“One student recorded her first walk inside Langara College’s hallways; she never thought she would be offered such [an] opportunity,” says Ham. “It is hard to balance classes with family responsibilities and full-time positions at First Nations administrations. But, these resilient women managed to do it all.”

Shannon Haizimsque, the cohort’s Valedictorian, shared her experience about the program from Wet’suwet’en Territory in Northern BC. Despite the sudden and tragic loss of her grandmother, Haizimsque found the drive to enroll in this program and persevere.

“I feel like this certificate made me smarter, stronger and helped me push through all difficulties thrown my way,” says Haizimsque.

This program not only aimed to equip students with the necessary financial knowledge, but also aimed to create an inclusive and cohesive cohort where students could lean on each other and further develop their network. Haizimsque says that cohort model was a valuable feature of the program.

“The cohort’s model helped us gain knowledge in finance and provided an extra layer of strong peer-to-peer support,” says Haizimsque.

As the program evolves, the second cohort embarked on their educational journey in Sept. 2022, while admissions for the 2023 batch are underway. In an endeavor to incorporate more Indigenous narratives and experiences, a new accounting professor has been onboarded as well.

For those considering the program, Haizimsque says it’s absolutely worth a shot.

“If you are scared, do it anyway and step outside of your comfort zone,” says Haizimsque.

For more information on the Indigenous Financial Management Certificate, visit: