Nova Scotia’s Mi’kmaw First Nations have achieved a significant national milestone by becoming the first communities to use financing from the Canada Infrastructure Bank’s (CIB) Indigenous Equity Initiative.

The CIB is loaning Wskijnu’k Mtmo’taqnuow Agency Ltd. (WMA), which represents 13 First Nations, $18 million to purchase an equity stake in Atlantic Canada’s largest energy storage project. The CIB is also lending $125 million to Nova Scotia Power (NSPI), which has been working with WMA for its own first equity participation.

“I believe CIB's contribution plays an important role in addressing the infrastructure needs of Indigenous communities, not only by providing financial support but by providing innovative financial modelling, facilitating partnerships and leveraging private sector expertise and economic development opportunities,” says Crystal Nicholas, WMA president and interim general manager.

She said ownership stakes are important because they provide opportunities for wealth generation and give communities a seat at the table and a say in the decision-making processes.

“It allows for a voice in shaping projects' development, design, and operation on their land and territories,” Nicholas said.

Nova Scotia Power CEO Peter Gregg welcomed efforts to facilitate a more meaningful stake in the project for its Indigenous partners through the CIB’s initiative.

The power utility says CIB funding will help support Nova Scotia’s historic clean energy transition and provide more reliable service for provincial customers. The energy storage project involves the construction and deployment of facilities in the communities of White Rock, Bridgewater and Waverley. Energy storage technologies are essential in Nova Scotia’s move towards more renewable electricity. The CIB’s investment will support the province’s plan to retire coal-based power generation and reach 80 per cent renewables by 2030.

“Through this program we were able to propose a project that enables the opportunity for Mi’kmaw communities to participate and experience the benefits as equity partners, while also helping to meet environmental targets,” he said.

Ownership provides Indigenous communities a level of control as well as profits, job creation, skill development and economic benefits by participating in projects that have not been typically available, said Bill Lomax, CEO of the First Nations Bank of Canada.

“The CIB’s Indigenous Equity Initiative provides a key piece of the puzzle for moving infrastructure opportunities forward. It has the potential to be a great fit with, and complement to, federal government loan guarantees. These two programs together could make an enormous difference to the success of infrastructure programs in Indigenous communities.”

Matt Jamieson, CEO of the Six Nations Economic Development Corporation wishes the CIB’s Indigenous Equity Initiative was available when his Oneida Energy Storage project was being negotiated.

“We would have liked to have been in a position to bite off more ownership in the final product, but that that program wasn't in place yet.”

While Sharleen Gale, Chief of the Fort Nelson First Nation and Chair of the First Nations Major Project Coalition, supports the CIB’s Indigenous Equity Initiative, she says there’s strong demand among Indigenous leaders to use the federal loan guarantee program for sectors that the CIB is unable to invest in, such as fossil fuels.

“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.”