Access To Investment Capital Has Indigenous Peoples In Alberta Positioned To Drive Prosperity For Their Communities And The Surrounding Region

Bonnie Elgie

One of the most important elements behind commercial partnerships is that they have the potential to create shared benefits and outcomes for all parties involved.

In this edition of BTF Insider, we speak with Alicia Dubois, Chief Executive Offier of the Alberta Indigenous Corporation, which supports Indigenous investment in medium to large scale projects in natural resource development or related infrastructure.

It’s a unique model for Canada and one that facilitates investment in natural resource projects within Alberta, as well as projects meeting certain criteria outside of Alberta.

In our conversation, Alicia highlights:

  • How commercial partnerships are a win-win for all involved and bolster the regional economy;
  • The benefits of stable revenue generation and the power of equity ownership in commercially viable projects for Indigenous communities;
  • The details of the recently-announced Northern Courier Pipeline Project; and      
  • Tips for industry partners to build and strengthen connections with Indigenous communities.

Alicia will also be joining a panel discussion at BTF Calgary in February 2022 to share more about opportunities to partner with the AIOC.

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Alicia Dubois, Chief Executive Officer of the Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corporation (AIOC), is leading a Crown corporation created to facilitate Indigenous investment and commercial partnerships in Alberta’s natural resource development. She joined AIOC just over a year ago and has quickly established a first of its kind program designed around building strong partnerships and meaningful relationships with the Indigenous communities they aim to serve. And she’s done it by taking a different approach. Alicia explains, “Because we operate as a separate entity [from government] and are apolitical, we engage in a way that a typical government program and have freedom in how we support partnerships.”

AIOC supports Indigenous communities access capital by way of loan guarantees so that they can invest in medium to large scale projects and actively participate in the economy.   In backing Indigenous investments, AIOC can offer a minimum loan guarantee of $20m up to a maximum of $250m. ’s minimum. As an economic catalyst, AIOC is mandated to provide up to a total of $1 billion in loan guarantees to enhance Indigenous investment in eligible projects and reduce their cost of capital.

One of the most important elements behind commercial partnerships is that they have the potential to create shared benefits and outcomes for all parties involved. The projects help to drive Indigenous prosperity through revenue generation, and hopefully employment opportunities and skills development.  These partnerships are a win-win for all involved because they also help to bolster the regional economy.

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AIOC takes pride in offering a collaborative, user-friendly experience and, frankly, an approach that is unlike most government programs.   A similar program is operating in Ontario, but it is part of the provincial finance ministry.  To develop trusting relationships with Indigenous communities, Alicia directs the AIOC team to do things in ways that feel non-bureaucratic and reflects the team’s sensitivity and awareness of the true history between Canada and Indigenous Peoples.

“We were established to support Indigenous investment in medium to large scale projects in natural resource development or related infrastructure.  There is a chance our mandate may be expanded in time but currently we are mandated to support at energy, mining and forestry projects and related infrastructure.  As part of “energy”, we are able to support renewable energy projects such as solar and wind as well,” says Alicia.

AIOC’s mandate allows the corporation to support First Nations recognized under the federal Indian Act, Metis settlements recognized under the Alberta Metis Settlement Act, or any entity owned by them. For those familiar with working with Indigenous communities, it is understood that to create benefits for the community, they often will constitute a separate legal corporate entity, referred to as an economic development corporation (EDC). EDCs operate very similarly to a Crown corporation but are constituted to generate revenues to support the community to enhance social programming or drive additional economic development opportunities, and/or to create employment opportunities for community members.

By virtue of her banking experience and understanding of Indigenous communities, Alicia is aware of the benefits of stable revenue generation and the power of equity ownership in commercially viable projects for Indigenous communities.   She states, “Our adjudication process aims to support Indigenous prosperity. Our approach is similar to banks in that we apply conservative risk parameters so that the projects have a high likelihood of long-term, consistent success.”

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As stewards of taxpayer dollars, risk is something they take very seriously. AIOC understands its obligation in that respect but AIOC’s obligation extends to Indigenous communities too.   Alicia says, ““When a community generates stable own-source revenues, they often smartly rely on those revenues to debt service additional credit facilities that support social programming for community members or additional economic development initiatives.  In light of this, AIOC works with the Indigenous investors and project partners to de-risk the project we support so that the revenues generated have a high likelihood of being strong and stable and thereby are well positioned to set the Indigenous investors up for success. 

The AIOC recently announced the Northern Courier Pipeline Project, which is an unprecedented partnership with Suncor and eight Indigenous groups (three First Nations and five Metis Settlements). Alicia points out that witnessing these two very distinct Indigenous cultural groups develop a partnership and collaborate in business is truly exciting.

The Northern Courier Pipeline fits well with AIOC’s criteria is that the 90 kilometres pipeline is located in Alberta and is a necessary piece of infrastructure that serves Alberta’s natural resource sector.   In addition, the value of the loan guarantee meets AIOC’s loan guarantee value limits and the deal structure satisfies AIOC’s risk criteria.   

An interesting fact unique to AIOC’s mandate is that it can support projects that extend outside of Alberta’s jurisdiction. “If there's an eligible project or asset that is not solely located within Alberta’s borders, AIOC can support Indigenous investment in the project” Alicia continues, “so long as 25% of the value of the Indigenous investment that is backed by AIOC is constituted by at least one Alberta-based Indigenous community.”

To clarify further, AIOC is always pleased to support a consortium of Indigenous communities, and if all other AIOC criteria are satisfied, up to 75% of the Indigenous investment can be made up of First Nations that are not Alberta-based so long as at least 25% of the Indigenous investment is Alberta-based.  To date, AIOC has approved and announced three deals to date and all of them are located within Alberta’s borders.

In light of ESG criteria and a corporate focus on inclusion and diversity, industry players are incentivized to build strong, meaningful relationships with Indigenous communities and here are a couple of tips for helping to build and strengthen those connections:

  • Look to build genuine relationships with Indigenous communities and develop partnerships that exemplify shared and equitable value.   The aim is to create real partnerships that advance and create prosperity for all partners. 
  • Connect with AIOC early so that the team can work with you and your Indigenous community partner(s) as the deal structure is developed, due diligence is completed, and the benefits/risks of the project are negotiated.  Very importantly, AIOC has grant funds available to Indigenous groups for the purposes of assessing the project and partnership.  Our aim is to ensure the Indigenous partners are able to make fully informed decisions and negotiate a deal that works for them and their industry partner.      

“Our mandate also allows us to provide Indigenous communities with capacity dollars to support communities perform relevant project due diligence.”

What Alicia sees as both inspiring, and not surprising, is that Indigenous communities are showing a serious interest in renewable energy projects.  It is not surprising in light of the innate connection Indigenous people have with the environment and to the land and “it is particularly inspiring to see Indigenous communities be leaders and drivers in energy innovation and our energy transition.”  

Alicia is very open and excited about discussing the possibilities of AIOC’s mandate. She wants everyone to understand that the corporation is open for business and welcoming meeting requests. They are ready to answer any questions about when and how to best to engage with AIOC.

She adds, “While our primary focus is supporting Indigenous communities, we understand that industry players may also have questions.  We welcome all who are curious to connect with our team so that we can support in getting project-based partnerships off the ground.  We encourage all who have questions to reach out so that we can answer questions and start people down the right path to strong partnership development.   It’s our desire to support the process and we're passionate about doing so.”