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The new head of the Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corporation (AIOC) says her priority will be acting on an expanded mandate that opens the door to investing in sectors including agriculture and telecommunications.

“There are a lot of other opportunities for Indigenous communities to drive transformational economic projects – and so we wanted to make sure that we were supporting them beyond that narrow focus of natural resources,” said Chana Martineau, whose appointment was announced Thursday.

The AIOC, established in 2019, was set up to provide up to $1-billion in loan guarantees to Indigenous groups looking to invest in economic development projects.

Initially, it focused on the natural resource sector. In February of this year, the AIOC’s mandate was expanded to include agriculture, telecommunications, transportation and related infrastructure.

Ms. Martineau, a member of the Frog Lake First Nation, has served on the board of the AIOC since November 2021. Before taking on the CEO role with the AIOC, she was most recently with Canadian Western Bank, where she helped develop an employee representative group for Indigenous employees and most recently served as vice-president for the bank’s Manitoba, Saskatchewan and rural Alberta operations.

Since the AIOC was formed, critics have raised concerns about staff turnover and a lack of Indigenous representation on the board. Former CEO Alicia Dubois stepped down in November, 2021, and several board members also left last year.

In May, the AIOC announced the appointment of three new board members. Five of eight directors are Indigenous; Ms. Martineau has stepped down as director to take the CEO role.

Since it was founded, the AIOC has developed a pipeline of prospective natural resource projects and is now working to have a similar roster of potential deals in other sectors, Ms. Martineau said.

In recent years, Indigenous groups repeatedly have flagged access to capital as a barrier to Indigenous economic development, especially when it comes to pursuing ownership stakes in major projects on traditional territories.

An April report from the First Nations Major Projects Coalition, which supports First Nations that want to invest in major projects on their territories, said that Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan have Indigenous loan guarantee programs and recommended the federal government set up a national program using a similar approach.

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