New Fire

Lisa Charleyboy: How I found my culture in the heart of the city

'There's this stereotype that culture is directly tied to the land, but that certainly wasn't my experience at all. I found my culture in Toronto — nowhere near my traditional territory.'
"I found my culture in Toronto... nowhere near my traditional territory." (Nadya Kwandibens)

By New Fire host Lisa Charleyboy

My father is Tsilhqot'in from a tiny reserve in the interior of British Columbia and my California-born mother came up "north" as a Christian missionary. Sounds weird, right? Because it is. 

Eventually they got married, and she moved on to the rez — where there weren't a lot of interracial marriages. And even though my mom has mixed heritage, she never really fit in.

When I was four my father committed suicide. After that my mom was no longer welcome to live on the reserve.

That's when we moved to Abbotsford, the bible belt of B.C. — and I never really looked back. I was raised by my mother and my Dutch stepfather, and I spent my time flipping through Vogue magazine and imagining a beautiful life beyond my biblical confines.

I didn't associate much with my Native side. All I saw were negative stereotypes in the news that didn't exactly spark a quest for knowledge.

At 17 years old I moved across the country to Toronto to pursue my dream of working in the fashion industry and to live life in the big city.

It was in Toronto that I found what had been missing in my life. Culture.

It all started when, one day, I started flipping through another magazine. Spirit magazine was an Indigenous arts and culture magazine, and when I looked inside those pages I saw a world that I didn't even know existed. I saw Indigenous artists, musicians, academics, and professionals. I was inspired. 

Eventually I got to expand my network and meet more and more Indigenous people in The Big Smoke and beyond.

There's this stereotype that culture is directly tied to the land, but that certainly wasn't my experience at all. I found my culture in Toronto — nowhere near my traditional territory.

It was in Toronto that I began connecting to the Native arts community, and that's where my quest for culture began. Eventually I started my blog, Urban Native Girl, and began to shift my focus from fashion to all things Indigenous.

I am still on that journey today. I've got lots left to learn and lots more to create, but I still find it a bit funny that as an Indigenous person from B.C., I found my connection to culture in the heart of Toronto.

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