With a news conference Wednesday, newly-created Athabasca Indigenous Investments, made up of 23 First Nation and Métis communities, announced the deal to buy an 11.57 per cent non-operating interest in the Enbridge-operated pipelines in the Athabasca region.
Chief Greg Desjarlais of Frog Lake First Nation said the investment brings Indigenous communities who are impacted by development in the region an important seat at the table, and will allow them to improve their quality of life.
“This investment — it creates opportunities. It’s going to allow us to send our kids to school. It’s going to allow us to send more people to treatment. It’s going to allow us to deal with the mental (health) crisis that we have in our communities, the anxiety of the young people,” he said, adding the deal should be seen as a benchmark.
“I hope the industry and other levels of government are paying attention, because our people should not be living in poverty in the land of milk and honey.”
A deepening relationship
Al Monaco, president and CEO of Enbridge, said the company aims to become a partner with Indigenous communities in future renewable, renewables, carbon capture, hydrogen and natural gas projects.
“Really it’s the beginning of a partnership and a deepening of the relationship that I think is going to be absolutely vital to what we do in the future,” said Monaco, who added the deal would not have been possible without the work of the provincial government.
The Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corporation (AIOC) backstopped the Athabasca Indigenous Investments deal to the tune of $250 million, with the rest of the investment raised through private investors. The Crown corporation was established by the UCP government in 2019, to extend loan guarantees and give advice to Indigenous groups to get involved in natural resource and other projects.
The latest project brings the total backing from AIOC to $410 million since 2020.
Premier Jason Kenney marked the announcement as one of the most exciting and consequential of his political career.
“(It’s) an historic, game-changing deal that shows the way to the future of shared prosperity,” he said, adding that pipelines will not get built without the full participation of Indigenous people, and the most effective way to ensure that participation is for them to be equal partners with an ownership stake.
Partnership is ‘precedent-setting’: crown corp
Stan Delorme, chairman of the Buffalo Lake Métis Settlement, said Enbridge has set the bar, and the partnership is a chance “to bring attention to the other industry players that are nickel-and-diming us currently.”
Justin Bourque, president of Athabasca Indigenous Investments, said it offers an important opportunity for all 23 communities involved to act as environmental stewards.
“This partnership in general provides a completely different form that we’ve never had in terms of engagement, in terms of discussion, in terms of being able to hold accountable,” he said.
AIOC chief executive officer Chana Martineau called the deal precedent-setting.
“These communities may not otherwise have been able to access the kind of capital required to facilitate equity share ownership in projects of this size and magnitude,” she said.
Enbridge and Athabasca Indigenous Investments said the assets are underpinned by long-term resources and long-term contracts, which provide “highly predictable cash flows.”
The deal is expected to close next month.