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Petrochemical storage tanks at the Enbridge Edmonton Terminal on Oct. 7, 2021.TODD KOROL/Reuters

A consortium of 23 First Nations and Métis communities is set to acquire a minority stake in seven Enbridge Inc. ENB-T crude oil pipelines in Alberta’s northern Athabasca region, in a $1.12-billion deal that represents the largest energy-related Indigenous economic partnership transaction in North America.

The new group heading up the deal is Athabasca Indigenous Investments (Aii). It includes Cree, Dene and Métis communities from northeast Alberta and across oil sands developments, and was created specifically to purchase a 11.57-per-cent non-operating share in the pipelines.

Aii president Justin Bourque said Wednesday at the announcement in Edmonton that becoming equity owners means the consortium will be contributing to North American energy supply and security. And being economic partners in the assets will allow them to bring another level of environmental accountability to the operation of the pipelines, he said.

It’s also a model for the way forward for Indigenous partnerships with energy companies, he said – a point echoed by Buffalo Lake Métis Settlement chairperson Stan Delorme, who added that it sent a loud message to other energy companies that are “nickel-and-diming” local Indigenous communities.

“Hopefully the other industry players are paying attention,” he said.

Pipelines included in the deal are the Athabasca, Wood Buffalo/Athabasca Twin and associated tanks, Norlite Diluent, Waupisoo, Wood Buffalo, Woodland and the Woodland extension. All serve the oil sands region and are supported by long-term contracts.

Chief Greg Desjarlais, of Frog Lake First Nation, said the deal would generate wealth and support economic sovereignty for people in the communities involved in the consortium.

“We want to be at the table, we want to be engaged – not just consulted,” he said.

The partnership builds on Enbridge’s Indigenous Reconciliation Action Plan, which the energy company released earlier this year to help track and report on its progress on commitments to advance truth and reconciliation, including economic inclusion and partnerships.

Enbridge chief executive Al Monaco said that the model rolled out by the company on Tuesday would be a big part of the future of energy infrastructure development.

“What you see here today is not just a transaction,” he said. “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.”

The bulk of the funding for the purchase comes via a debt offering to investors, which was completed earlier this week.

The Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corp., formed as part of a 2019 election promise by the United Conservative Party, is also providing a $250-million loan backstop for the deal.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney called the deal a historic game-changer “that shows the way to the future of shared prosperity, of being partners in prosperity.”

A Scotiabank Global Equity Research note Tuesday said the deal was an example of Enbridge’s efforts “to support and deepen its relationships with Indigenous communities in Canada, which should yield a variety of benefits,” with more transactions along similar lines likely to come.

And while the deal didn’t move per-share estimates, analysts noted that it would strengthen Enbridge’s balance sheet, with the $1.12-billion cash payment likely being used to pay down debt, buy back shares and fund its capital plan.

The transaction is expected to close within the next month.