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Alone in Italy, Urban Native Girl Finds Her Home Has Followed Her Across the Ocean

Lisa Charleyboy is from the Tsilhqot’in (Dene) First Nations of Raven Clan from Alexis Creek First Nation from BC. Currently living in Toronto Ontario, she graduated from York University with a Bachelor of Honors Degree in Professional Writing. Lisa works as an Aboriginal Recruiter for York, is a freelance writer and moonlights as the Urban Native Girl, which is her own Indigenous pop culture blog. She writes for Indian Country Today Media Network as a style reporter. This is her second travel story Indian Country Today Media Network.

When I received the invite to go to Italy early July the first that came to mind was “what am I going to wear?” Needless to say, I was very excited at the prospect of my very first European vacation. I had always wanted to go but I am not exactly the ‘hostel-backpacker’ type so I wanted to save the vacation for a time when I could do it right.

And doing it right is exactly what this trip entailed; it was first-class, luxury all the way from the moment I took off from Toronto to the moment I arrived back in the Big Smoke. First stop was Villa D’Este, a luxury Italian resort located in Lake Como. This resort is rated one of the best hotels by Travel & Leisure, Condé Nast Traveller, and Forbes Traveller so I knew I was in for something seriously spectacular.Spectacular it was from the second I exited the car to the front entrance, I knew that this was no Sheraton Hotel. I was treated with graciousness and gentility right from the initial point of contact until the very last stroll on the sprawling grounds. The reason that I was here was to celebrate a milestone birthday of a friend of a friend of mine. There were one hundred people invited to partake in this celebration and I knew exactly one person there and was a tad worried (read: nervous) that I would be out of my element.

The first night there was a dinner scheduled and upon arrival to said dinner, I was to take a number out of a large bowl, which would be my table assignment for the evening. So I was immediately separated from the one person that I knew at the party. Fail. Enter awkwardness. I settled in at my table and began the introductions and the small talk. But it wasn’t until halfway through the dinner that my ears truly perked up. I heard a woman two seats to my right discussing Native peoples and mentioning Dene people. I couldn’t hear what she was saying very well due to background noise but I was very intrigued.

A few minutes later we began talking and she had mentioned British Columbia, so I told her that was my home province and where I was born (Williams Lake) and where I was raised (Abbotsford). She shared with me that she used to work as a nurse in remote northern First Nations communities. I was surprised to say the least, so I asked her which ones. She mentioned Nemiah Valley first. I was just there the previous weekend. How is this possible to be talking of a small community that is a three hour drive west of the local small town while I am in Northern Italy? It felt a little surreal.

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But then it got even more surreal. She explained that she serviced three communities, including my reservation, Alexis Creek Indian Band, during the eighties. When I told her when I lived there and that my father was chief during a portion of the eighties, she told me that she remembered him. “He was a very good man, and a great leader,” she said to me. I was almost in tears at this moment. You see, my father passed away when I was just 4 years old. There are very few people, apart from my family, that can say that they knew my father. And to hear a virtual stranger tell me those words really choked me up.

That was my light bulb moment. I was in Italy, in a land far away from home but home was still sitting right beside me. She knew who I was, where I came from and how far I had come to be exactly there in that moment. And for a moment I felt naked and I felt good that someone in this room knew all of that about me. She could see beyond the poise, the dress, and the purse, and see precisely who I was, a Native Indian girl from the bush of beautiful British Columbia.

I was promptly introduced to her mother who was the official hostess of this grand affair and I felt welcomed and like I was exactly where I was supposed to be at exactly the right time. And so for the rest of those four days, basking in all that luxury, I felt like I was destined to be there. That was all it took, was for someone to recognize the “real me.”

The second night in Lake Como we all boarded a steamship for a dinner and a ride around the lake, which was followed by fireworks once we docked. It was truly magical and magnificent. The final evening was the real birthday event, and it was black tie. I had to madly shop around Toronto in one day to outfit myself for this occasion and was greatly looking forward to wearing my new white BCBG Max Azria dress with my House of Harlow snakeskin heels.

This night began with a few cocktails and then a lovely dinner. But the headliner of the evening was Elton John. Yes the Elton John. He had flown in two pianos the day before so he could ensure that one was acoustically perfect for his performance. It was an hour and a half show for the small, elegantly dressed group of one hundred guests. It was unlike any event I had ever attended in my life.

And there I was leaving this luxurious place the next day and was amazed to think that I could go from being in a full moon ceremony in Nemiah Valley, British Columbia, one weekend to the private party with Elton John the next weekend. That is just how life is, full of peaks and valleys, and I will always be there to enjoy the ride as long as there is always someone there by my side, whom will always know the authentic me, that little Native girl from a remote community in the interior of BC.