Indigenous Treaty Partners Encourage Relationship Building

Posted: June 21, 2024

Curiosity. Patience. And a willingness to try. Those are the keys to understanding how businesses and Indigenous communities can forge meaningful relationships, say the founders of Indigenous Treaty Partners (ITP).

“Building relationships in general is about being open and curious, listening and being mindful and patient,” says ITP co-founder Houston Barnaby. “Organizations are often nervous to do something wrong or something incorrect. So because of that, they will do nothing to support reconciliation. We want to show organizations that trying to do something is better than doing nothing.”

The Halifax-based company offers Indigenous cultural awareness training, reconciliation action plans, and general Indigenous consulting programs that cater to a wide range of corporate and government audiences. They also offer a scholarship program, contributing part of their revenue to support Indigenous youth.

Houston Barnaby, left, and Corey Mattie, the founding partners of Indigenous Treaty Partners, outside of their office at Purdy's Wharf in Halifax.

ITP’s work is guided by an approach called Two-Eyed Seeing. It’s a term coined by Elder Albert Marshall from Unamaki (Cape Breton), says Houston. “It's all about bringing in the western lens and the Indigenous lens to look at the same problem with a more holistic view. One is not more important than the other; it’s about bringing them together.”

ITP was launched three years ago by Houston, an Indigenous Rights lawyer and Mi'kmaw from Listuguj, Que., and Corey Mattie, a settler from Kjipuktuk with historic Mi’kmaw ancestry, who had been living and working in Toronto for the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business. He noticed there were Indigenous organizations training big companies but only in Ontario and westward. After moving home to Halifax, he realized no one was offering it east of Quebec.

He approached Houston in February 2021, and they began to meet every Tuesday to work on creating a business. “We knew we had an idea – that we wanted to build a cultural awareness presentation. But we had no idea what it was going to look like,” says Houston.

Eventually, they offered Barrington Consulting Group free training in order to test the concept. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and the business was launched.

“That one session, fireworks went off. We had something special. The emotion was there, the narrative was there, the positivity was there,” says Houston. “People are leading with their hearts and they understand the injustices. We're not asking for the world. We're just asking to be respected and understood, and I think Canadians are really leaning in.”

ITP was immediately successful, leading to rapid growth. That trajectory has brought with it some challenges, so they approached Halifax Partnership for support. “We hadn’t had any prior experience in building a company, so we really required support from the ecosystem of organizations that are tasked to do that,” says Corey.

Halifax Partnership’s Minder Singh and Jason Guidry introduced ITP to programs and resources such as the Partnership’s Virtual Advisor Program to help them learn how to hire their first employee; CBDC Bluewater to learn about financing options for their business; HRO Core and the Centre for Diversity & Inclusion to explore partnership opportunities; and The START program, Graduate to Opportunity program, and the DAL Co-op office to explore options and funding programs to hire co-op students.

“We haven’t done any substantial focused marketing – it's all been word of mouth. And the reason why we've been able to be so successful through word of mouth is through organizations such as the Halifax Partnership and many of the programs and events that they sponsor or organize,” says Corey.

Both Houston and Corey love Halifax and are encouraged by the growing opportunities in the province, particularly surrounding the transition to green energy. “There’s lots of activity happening in Nova Scotia, certainly with green hydrogen, wind assets, solar assets, battery storage. There’s so much opportunity to bring communities together,” says Corey.

ITP is also looking to establish itself in the American market, and the company has just launched MISKO - an online cultural awareness course that has the capacity to offer training to large organizations. One of the biggest challenges with those organizations is that they are on their own timeline, says Houston. “Being patient is the hardest part for them. With Indigenous people, we view time differently. We think in the long term, so we're slower. Faster or slower, it doesn’t matter. We're just different, and it's all beautiful.”

One of the most common misconceptions ITP encounters during training is regarding residential schools. “There tends to be a lack of awareness around residential schools, which have been in existence in this country for more than 160 years. The last one only closed in 1997, which is pretty shocking to most people,” says Corey.

That’s where ITP’s knowledge comes in, providing important context that can foster a better understanding and connection. “It's just about being curious and appreciating different perspectives, learning to ask the right questions. It's about bringing people together, and that's what reconciliation is,” says Houston.

“People get it,” he says, referring to a general shift in attitude geared towards understanding and a desire to forge relationships. “We tell people that they hold the pen. The future is being written currently, and it can be whatever we want it to be.”

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