The launch of a new Indigenous-owned travel agency this week was an emotional moment for Chris Maxfield because he now has an opportunity to carry on the legacy and vision of a dear friend he lost back in 2017.
“I did tear up a little during the launch, and I’m doing it again right now,” an emotional Maxfield said on Thursday, one day after the official launch in Winnipeg of Indigeno Travel, which touts itself as Canada’s first national and full-service Indigenous-owned travel agency.
Maxfield, who is a co-founder and the vice-president of business development for Indigeno, said the idea and concept for the business originally came from his good friend Darrell Phillips, who was a member of the Hollow Water First Nation, and a well-known community organizer and advocate.
He said Phillips had a dream to create a tourism and travel company that would be Indigenous-owned and would offer jobs to Indigenous community members, while also offering Indigenous tourism experiences, and he started working on that vision back in 2015.
But in 2017, Maxfield got the tragic news that Phillips was diagnosed with a terminal illness, and he passed away not long after that diagnosis.
After losing his friend, Maxfield said it was important to bring Phillips’ idea and concept to life, and that dream was achieved when Indigeno was officially launched this week.
“It’s hard to put into words how it feels to see his vision come to life and to work with his wife and his children and have them see their father’s dreams come true and be fulfilled,” Maxfield said.
The agency will have direct ties to Phillips, as his widow, Charlene is now a part-owner and a board member for Indigeno.
And while the new travel agency will offer full travel services to anyone looking to book a trip or get information about possible travel plans, Maxfield said they will also work to offer career opportunities and revenue sources for Indigenous people.
“That is part of the goal,” he said. “We want to create Indigenous employment in the travel industry because Indigenous people in the industry are underrepresented, so we’ve got plans to both train and hire people.
“We really want this business to be another pathway towards reconciliation.”
According to Maxfield, Indigeno Travel is also currently working with Red River College Polytechnic to create a program that would bring more Indigenous travel advisers into the industry. He said they also want to work with Indigenous communities across Canada to create tourism opportunities that will allow Canadians and people from around the world to visit Indigenous communities, and have Indigenous experiences.
“We know that travellers are looking for more Indigenous experiences but not always able to make that happen, so it is a big goal of ours to put more of those opportunities on our shelves,” Maxfield said.
“It is important to create those opportunities not only for clients but also because when you bring tourists into Indigenous communities it can have big financial and social impacts on those communities.”
The company also announced on Wednesday they have formed a partnership with the Treaty One Development Corporation (T1DC), an organization that works to foster economic growth on Treaty One Lands, and that agreement will now see T1DC take on part ownership of Indigeno.
T1DC spokesperson and Long Plain First Nation Chief Dennis Meeches said that T1DC entered the partnership because they believe in what Indigeno is doing.
“Our Indigenous community has embraced the idea of a major national Indigenous-owned travel agency serving non-Indigenous and Indigenous customers,” Meeches said.
“Indigeno offers a choice for Canadians of goodwill towards Indigenous people.”
Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.