As a First Nation person visiting Europe, I have run into many situations where people are surprised to find someone like me in their city or town. Much of the time I am asked if I am Indian or often it comes up in conversation with people I meet on my way. It really is amazing that in this day and age people here in Europe still have this Hollywood image of Native people.

Most of the people I have met think we still ride horses and live in wigwams. They are surprised when I tell them who we Mushkego Crees are all about. They are amazed and even a little disappointed when I tell them that most of my people live in modern homes, drive cars and watch too much television like everybody else. However, when I talk to them about the land and how many of us still know how to live on the land they are very interested in what I have to say. When I tell them about the vast wilderness we still have, up on the James Bay coast, they are in disbelief When I recall stories of hunting on our traditional lands

and living as our ancestors did when out on the land, they are spellbound.

The land here in Europe is very much used up. There is no real wilderness and there are so many people that it is difficult to find a quiet spot. It seems as though every foot of land is developed in some sort of way for housing, farming or tourism. In the cities and towns, houses are built very close together and most people don’t have the luxury of front and back yards. There are many low-rise apartment buildings and balconies are very popular.

It is often difficult for me to convince people that in five minutes I can leave my home in Canada and be in the wilderness. They also have trouble comprehending the fact that for much of my life I have lived in temperatures as low as -55 degrees Celsius and more. Most people think it is crazy to live anywhere that cold. I try to explain to them that our homes are insulated and well-heated and that we dress in several layers of clothing that cover up most of our body. They just don’t believe it is possible to live at these temperatures and to tell you the truth over the past few years I had been wondering just how we do it.

Most of the homes in southern Spain are not insulated and they don’t even have central heating. In Spain, France and Italy it never gets really cold with the exception of the mountain areas. Northern Europeans understand how we live in Canada because their weather more closely resembles ours.

The driving here is very different too as most of the cars are very small. Many of the First Nation people I know are around my height of six foot one inch and that poses a problem when driving in Europe. Recently I rented a small European Ford and I had to drive it almost in a fetal position. There is a lot of traffic just about everywhere you go. Everybody seems to speed and the roads are generally pretty good. In some of the more rural areas they still use horses here in Spain.

Many of those I have met here are also very interested in our spirituality. They want to know about the sweat lodge and our beliefs. I try to tell them as much as I can. It is at these moments that I realize how much we have changed with the coming of the Europeans. I find it ironic that they become upset when I tell them many of us have lost our spirituality, traditions and culture. They seem more relieved when I add that there is a new movement in reviving our way of life. The irony is that they want to see us as we were when in fact it was their ancestors who came to the Americas and forced us into their way of thinking. It’s a strange world.