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Members of the First Nations Major Projects Coalition from left: Niilo Edwards, executive director of the First Nations Major Projects Coalition, councillor Ted Jack, Cheslatta Carrier Nation, Jason Edworthy, BluEarth Renewables, Chief Corrina Leween, Cheslatta Carrier Nation, and Gareth McDonald, BluEarth Renewables, in northwestern B.C.The Canadian Press

The Canada Infrastructure Bank should consider lending to Indigenous groups to allow them to take equity positions in major resource projects, says a new report from the First Nations Major Projects Coalition.

That approach could help improve access to capital for Indigenous groups and be part of an economic pandemic recovery, says the report, which was released as the CIB is under pressure to deliver on a mandate that includes tackling the infrastructure gap between Indigenous communities and the general population.

The federal Liberal government created the CIB in 2017, giving it a mandate to attract private-sector investors, such as pension funds, to participate in Canadian infrastructure projects. Only about $4-billion of its $35-billion initial budget has been allocated to date.

In February, the federal government directed the infrastructure bank to invest at least $1-billion in revenue-generating projects that benefit Indigenous people.

Currently, CIB plans call for it to consider lending to infrastructure projects that serve Indigenous communities, focusing on sectors including clean power and broadband connections. Information on its website says it can provide both debt and equity financing.

The First Nations Major Projects Coalition, or FNMPC, an advocacy group for First Nations that have existing or proposed infrastructure projects on their territories, suggests the CIB has been focused more on debt financing and should help Indigenous groups acquire equity stakes.

“If risks (such as construction risk and demand risk) could be properly managed, and if CIB was lending on basis of project revenues as opposed to existing revenues, then this [equity support] could be a good option if equity was permitted,” the report says.

The CIB is already active in projects that include Indigenous partners, including Oneida Energy Storage and Kivalliq Hydro-Fibre Link, bank spokesman Félix Corriveau said in an e-mail.

“The CIB is an additional tool for Indigenous communities to combine public funding and private and institutional investment for their infrastructure priorities,” Mr. Corriveau said.

First Nations routinely face barriers when it comes to accessing capital, primarily because they can’t borrow against assets in the same way that, for example, a municipality could, FNMPC executive director Niilo Edwards said.

“First Nations don’t have the down payment – and even the down payment has to be financed,” Mr. Edwards said.

The CIB suggestion is one of several discussed in the report, which looks at existing programs set up to improve First Nations’ access to capital, including the First Nations Finance Authority.

The authority, modelled after provincial and municipal treasury departments, raises money on capital markets to provide loans to its members. Its first debenture offering was in 2014. This past December, the authority said it had provided more than $1-billion in loans to Indigenous communities.

More and lower-cost financing options would be welcome, said Peter Kirby, chief executive officer of Taku River Tlingit Group of Cos.

Mr. Kirby was at the helm in the late 2000s when Taku River Tlingit sought financing for a small hydro project in Atlin, in northwestern B.C.

That effort involved grant applications to federal agencies, talks with legal and financial advisers and, ultimately, a loan from a Canadian institutional lender at rates that were higher than desired. In 2012, Taku River Tlingit become one of the first clients of the First Nations Finance Authority when it obtained a $2-million loan at rates Mr. Kirby said were lower than it had from its previous lender.

Now, Taku River Tlingit wants to expand its hydro project, which has helped reduce reliance on diesel and resulted in other benefits, including jobs.

The proposed Atlin expansion would enlarge the project to approximately 10 megawatts from an existing 2.1 megawatts. Estimated capital costs are around $200-million, Mr. Kirby said, and he is once again preparing to knock on doors to secure financing.

Currently available capital, even that available through government-backed programs or institutions, tends to be expensive, he said.

“There’s a lot of work that goes into overcoming barriers that I think other organizations don’t have,” Mr. Kirby said.

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