Ehren Cory:  Thanks for participating in our latest edition of The Frame, focused on Indigenous infrastructure issues that are of concern to so many people. When you speak to Indigenous leaders, what are some of the challenges and opportunities they see in renewing and upgrading their infrastructure?

SG: What is common among First Nations across Canada is that there are many infrastructural deficits in our communities, on our lands, and on our reserves. That includes deficits such as water, sewer, broadband, housing, roads, community centres, transmission lines, reliable clean energy sources, and health centres. Which one of those is the most pressing infrastructure need is a unique question that must be posed to each First Nation, and is unique to that First Nation’s circumstances, geography, history, current priorities, and a variety of other factors. What is common among Indigenous nations across Canada is that we need opportunities for own source revenues so that we can make choices about which of these infrastructural deficits to address, and to be able to use our own decision-making and self determination to not only choose which ones we build, but also when we build them, where we build them, and what infrastructure or program is priority.

EC: The CIB has launched its Indigenous Equity Initiative to help First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities acquire ownership stakes in projects. How important is this type of program for Indigenous communities compared with the federal government’s new Indigenous loan program?

SG: CIB’s Indigenous Equity Initiative is a useful tool in the toolbox for First Nations to access equity capital for investments in major projects in Canada. In that overall toolbox, the things that will help Indigenous nations overcome the barriers surrounding access to competitively priced capital include the loan guarantee programs at the federal and provincial levels, capacity supports, private sector investments, capacity supports, lenders using competitively priced rates, and addressing policy and regulation that restrict Indigenous investments in major projects. CIB’s Indigenous Equity Initiative is a very important tool in this toolbox, and in the journey for Indigenous nations to have access not only to competitively priced capital, but also to build our own economies and our own-source revenues. Those own-source revenues in turn contribute to our self-determination goals, and our ability to reinvigorate our cultures, our ways of living, and our lands and waters.

Specifically, CIB’s Indigenous Equity Initiative could benefit from broadening its mandate so that there does not need to be CIB investment in a project for there to also be an equity loan to First Nations. We would suggest that more options and leeway are provided to First Nations so that we can access equity loans outside of the CIB’s own investments. The Indigenous Equity Initiative would also benefit First Nations by being sector-agnostic.

EC: Why is infrastructure important for Indigenous reconciliation?

SG: It is important to understand the context of where we are today in order to understand why infrastructure is important to Indigenous reconciliation. Colonization in Canada was characterized by the taking of Indigenous lands and an ongoing practice of putting economic projects on Indigenous lands without our consent and often no consultation. First Nations have borne the brunt of the impacts of these projects. Historically, and to this day, we have benefited very little economically or otherwise from them.

Simultaneously this alienation from our traditional homelands – including our oceans, lakes, rivers, air and lands which are the long-standing traditional places we built-out our pre-contact economies - has all but stopped our ability to flourish economically. To reinvigorate our economies, we must face this truth of what has been taken from Indigenous nations across Canada.  While the rest of Canada has benefited from Canada’s economic, infrastructure, extractive, and energy projects, infrastructure on our reserves and in our traditional territories has dwindled.

Projects ranging from water and sewer infrastructure to community centres and roads and buildings and houses are all the basics upon which we can build our Indigenous economies, businesses, livelihoods, and to raise our families. This community infrastructure – alongside economic opportunity, own-source revenues, consent-based decision making, and self-determination - are what make up the backbone of how we support future generations for our Indigenous nations to flourish. That is why infrastructure is important for Indigenous reconciliation.