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Opinion: Indigenous loan guarantee program boosts economy, reconciliation

It is an exciting time for Indigenous people in Canada today. After enduring over a century of economic restrictions under the Indian Act, Indigenous groups in Canada are experiencing a transformative moment as we become resource owners, investing in major energy infrastructure projects and sharing in the benefits earned through our equity positions.

At the heart of this lies the Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corporation (AIOC), a visionary initiative that has unlocked unprecedented economic potential while fostering true economic reconciliation.

The journey began in 2019 when Alberta set out on a path rooted in aspiration for a brighter future for Indigenous groups through the creation of the AIOC, which provides loan guarantees for First Nations and Métis groups to borrow money to invest in capital projects. AIOC’s work aligns with the imperative laid out by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action No. 92 by providing a mechanism to access capital that was previously unavailable.

AIOC does not lend to Indigenous communities; it provides loan guarantees that allow them to obtain financing which can then be invested. Through AIOC’s loan guarantee program, over $680 million has been deployed supporting over $1.5 billion in investment across seven deals by 42 First Nations and Métis groups in Alberta in just four years. These partnerships have yielded meaningful returns, with revenues flowing into communities and fuelling land purchases, infrastructure improvements and economic development projects.

The returns build stronger Indigenous communities, which makes all of Alberta stronger.

The impact of equity partnerships, epitomized by the Cascade Power Project near Edson, for example, extends far beyond the First Nations directly involved. Backed by a $93-million loan guarantee from AIOC, this combined-cycle, natural-gas powered facility is poised to supply eight per cent of Alberta’s average electricity demand through high-efficiency, low-emission electricity and creates economic vitality through 600 jobs during construction and 25 long-term positions.

Its significance was vividly demonstrated during a bitterly cold January evening when the Alberta electrical grid teetered on the brink of overload, just days after Cascade delivered its first megawatt of power to the grid. Once Cascade comes fully online late this summer, the system will help prevent outages going

Cascade was the first AIOC deal, and subsequent negotiations set the groundwork for the AIOC program, creating a sustainable and replicable model for future deals. Each one following has brought significant financial gains, fostered trust, and promoted sustainable impact. Engaging in one transaction profoundly transforms participants.

Indigenous groups gain empowerment, knowledge, and improved financial capabilities, while corporate partners drive economic reconciliation and gain genuine insight into Indigenous ways of knowing, learning their values and wisdom.

The Cascade deal stands as a testament to the power of collective action in driving meaningful change and economic reconciliation. This project provides a cleaner, more reliable power grid for all Albertans.

The tangible results and positive impact of the program are undeniable, and AIOC is now seen as a critical element of Alberta’s economic strategy. This impact has attracted national and international attention, with interest from jurisdictions worldwide to follow in Alberta’s footsteps.

AIOC has worked closely with the Government of Canada to provide information and expertise that has informed the development of a similar federal loan guarantee program which was recently announced, and other provinces have similar plans in development.

Last November, the Government of Alberta tripled AIOC’s loan guarantee capacity to $3 billion, continuing to expand Alberta’s promise for Indigenous partnerships and progressive change.

In the pursuit of economic and social reconciliation, empowering Indigenous peoples is not only a moral
imperative, but a strategic pathway to building a more inclusive, equitable and prosperous society and Alberta is leading the way.

Chana Martineau is CEO of the Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corporation, a provincial Crown corporation.

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