Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The provincial government has expanded the mandate of the Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corporation (AIOC) to include financially backstopping projects and related infrastructure in the agricultural, transportation and telecommunications sectors.
The AIOC, created in 2019, was initially set up to provide loan guarantees to natural resource projects only.
“Other tribes, nations, talk about sovereignty, which is good … but in order to really attain true sovereignty as a government representing a tribe or people, you have to have financial sovereignty. So important. And this is what this fund is going to help create,” said Makiinima, Chief Roy Fox of the Kainai/Blood Tribe.
The Southern Alberta First Nation hosted the government announcement at the Kainai Forage facility on Feb. 14.
“Kainai Forage operations is an amazing success story that represents some of the best of Indigenous entrepreneurship in Canada,” said Premier Jason Kenney, who was among the handful of provincial politicians at the announcement. “I feel very confident that within a few years this will be the largest producer and exporter of premium timothy hay in the country and maybe the world.”
Along with their forage operations, the Kainai/Blood Tribe has developed the largest irrigation project in Canada and is the second largest irrigation farm in the world, said Fox. They also have infrastructure that supports 25,000 acres of irrigated land.
As well, the Kainai/Blood tribe is the second biggest oil and gas producer on any First Nations reserve in Canada.
“Adding agriculture, transportation and telecommunications opens possibilities for First Nations that are less involved with natural resources,” said Kenney.
Joining Kenney were ministers Rick Wilson (Indigenous Relations) and Nate Horner (Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Economic Development), as well as newly appointed AIOC chair Stephen Buffalo.
“(With) this new extended mandate there’s going to be even more chances for Indigenous-owned businesses to find new partners and invest in companies and generate wealth,” said Wilson.
To date, AIOC has backstopped $160 million in loan guarantees for three Indigenous natural resource projects. In September 2020, the Cascade Power Project, involving six First Nations, received AIOC’s first loan guarantee at $93 million. In April 2021, a $27 million loan guarantee went to Frog Lake First Nation to invest in the Strathcona Resource’s Lindbergh Cogeneration facility. In September 2021, eight First Nations and Métis communities in the Wood Buffalo region received $40 million in loan guarantees to finance the Northern Courier Pipeline System.
Last month, the AIOC announced capacity grant funding for the Ermineskin Cree Nation for their Neyaskweyahk Energy Project, a proposed solar power generation facility to be built on ECN’s reserve land.
This expansion of the AIOC’s mandate, said Buffalo, “illustrates our organization’s strength and stability to continue to support the health and well-being of our communities.”
Last November, there was a major turnover at AIOC with Chief Executive Officer Alicia Dubois and board chair Cody Church departing. Buffalo, vice-chair at the time, stepped into the chair position.
Like the proposed projects for natural resource development, projects in these three new sectors require a minimum of Indigenous investment of $20 million.
“These sectors are industry that many Indigenous communities have vested interest in expanding and further strengthening and improving the well-being and economic success of their communities. By supporting First Nations and Métis communities in accessing funding … many Indigenous communities will continue to prosper,” said Buffalo.
AIOC has $1 billion of Alberta government funding for loan guarantees.
Responding to questions from Windspeaker.com after the announcement, Indigenous Relations spokesperson Adrienne South said the expanded mandate was not due to decreased interest by Indigenous communities in the natural resource development field.
“The expanded mandate aligns with Alberta’s Recovery Plan. We are confident that we will continue to see strong natural resource applications even with a mandate expansion,” said South.
She added that the AIOC’s board of directors was diverse with experience in a variety of fields and could meet the needs of the new mandate.
“They are well-positioned to make investment decisions across a variety of sectors that will flow money back into Indigenous communities. The board will continue to review applications for commercially viable projects that will put money back into Indigenous communities,” said South.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.