OSU to start tribal finance certificate program

09/13/2018 08:15 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
A screenshot of the Oklahoma Tribal Finance Consortium website www.oktribalfinance.com. One of the consortium’s focuses is to bring tribal accounting and finance training inside the state. COURTESY
STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — In the past year, Victor Flores has focused on bringing tribal accounting and finance training inside the state. He organized the Oklahoma Tribal Finance Consortium, which has met twice this year.

But one of the main goals of the consortium will start in November, when Oklahoma State University will hold the Introductory Tribal Finance and Accounting Certificate four-day pilot program, with the full kickoff scheduled for May.

Flores, who is the Absentee Shawnee Tribe’s chief financial officer, said he plans to take about 15 people from his office to the conference in November. The introductory level is ideal for people who do not have a finance or business background, such as elected officials or directors of different entities within the tribe.

There are intermediate- and advanced-level programs being developed as well. The intermediate program will launch in summer 2019, and the advanced level doesn’t have a launch date yet, said Lindsey Kirksey, program director at the OSU Spears School of Business’ Center for Executive and Professional Development.

The center has also developed a tribal leadership certificate program, which can be completed over a two-year period.

The accounting and finance classes will be taught by different industry professionals, such as BKD Managing Director Joel Haaser, based in Tulsa. The University of Oklahoma College of Law is helping to provide legal professionals as well.

Haaser said tribal accounting operations vary from state and local government, so this type of training is needed. Tribes tend to get more federal grants than cities, and that money can be used for housing or even road construction. At the same time, tribes operate for-profit businesses, such as casinos.

“That puts tribes in between a government and a commercial organization, which is really the difference (between tribes and state and local governments),” Haaser said. “It creates a lot of unique accounting challenges.”

Flores said it’s especially important to have these programs in Oklahoma because the tribes’ histories are different than in other states. With the Native Americans being forced to settle here, they’re not on reservations like in other states.

“We’re vastly different (from other states),” he said. “We have our own idiosyncrasies. When (my office) goes to training, we have to tell our employees that what they learned may not apply in Oklahoma. We’re talking apples and oranges. That’s why we’re trying to create our own training.”

The November program has about 10 people enrolled so far, but Center for Executive and Professional Development Director Julie Weathers said she expects that to double. The November class is being offered to tribal members on the advisory board, who are expected to give feedback after the pilot program. The May class is already opened for registration.

The center offers professional development training for several industries, such as energy and municipal governments.

Tribal leaders from Texas and Kansas have been invited to the May conference, Flores said. Since there are four tribes in Kansas and three nations in Texas, they often send representatives to events in Oklahoma.

Weathers said the center is excited to work with the Oklahoma Tribal Finance Consortium on the training.

“As a land-grant university, we feel it’s our duty to offer this type of education in business, so we’re certainly glad to be a part of it,” she said. “Kudos to the tribes for coming together and voicing their concerns to all work together and offer a solution to the challenges in the accounting and finance area.”


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