BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Monday, 13 June, 2005, 10:51 GMT 11:51 UK
Home from home
Hundreds of races and cultures live in the UK. Among them are a few members of indigenous people, who speak here about their homeland and their adopted country.

Native peoples' strong ties to their land often means the economic forces which push and pull millions of other people in search of a better life do not exert the same influence.

But in an increasingly mobile world, there are plenty of exceptions. Here are three stories.

Francis Firebrace
Australian Aborigine Francis Firebrace
Reynaldo Mariqueo
Chilean Mapuche Reynaldo Mariqueo
Valerian Three Irons
Native American Valerian Three Irons


Not many people dare strike up conversations with strangers on the London Underground. But Francis Firebrace is no shrinking violet. "People said I couldn't get people to talk on the Tube, but I did," he says.

This storyteller and artist has been bringing Aboriginal culture to the UK for 11 years.

Francis Firebrace
Francis keeps the traditions alive
The 69-year-old, who has replaced the Australian bush with suburban Surrey, visits schools and prisons to talk about his experience growing up in Yorta Yorta, Victoria.

His father was one of the country's stolen Aboriginal children - youngsters taken from their families by white Australians - and he hunted rabbits and kangaroos.

Francis was brought up in the bush until the age of seven. He lived in a tent until aged three, then in a house with a dirt floor.

When his family moved to the town of Euston, it was the first time he had seen groups of people.

Speaking at a Dennis Morris exhibition of Aboriginal photographs at London's Spectrum Gallery, he says: "I'd only seen white people from a distance but I used to hear the children crying because they were hungry during the Depression."

Share more

The stories he tells to schoolchildren are from his father, his life or from other travellers he has met.

And there are lessons that Western society could learn from him, he says.

"The British are very nervous and reserved people and when I ask the children to stand up and say something good about themselves they can't.

Francis Firebrace
Francis Firebrace - at home in London
"To survive for 200,000 years like we did, we needed to do that to our kids. But you don't speak to each other, you don't even know your neighbours and hence you have a weakened society."

People in the UK should also share more - a key practice which ensures the survival of Aboriginal communities.

Although he misses the kookaburra, the fresh air and the desert country, he says being outside familiar surroundings is character-building.

"Lots of people are too afraid to step outside the safety circle and I live outside it. Your worst enemy is security."

He is still angry about the way his ancestors were treated by white settlers, but doesn't bear any grudges.


Arriving in the UK in 1976 as a political refugee from Chile, Reynaldo stayed, picking up a wife, a son and a new life.

The Mapuche are an indigenous group inhabiting southern Argentina and Chile, whose way of life is considered under threat by international human rights groups.

People here are very individualistic and don't share much with others
Reynaldo Mariqueo
Reynaldo grew up in a mixed community and says it was a happy childhood. The Mapuche have been integrated into Western lifestyles ever since meeting the Spanish in the 16th Century, he says.

"The way of life for the Mapuche isn't terribly different than the other people's. We have crops and animals to look after but maybe less technology than other farmers."

Religion plays a big part in the community. There is a celestial family - a Father, Mother, Son and Daughter - and a recognition of the power of Nature.

Growing up, Reynaldo says he saw discrimination against Mapuche people, especially those who dressed in traditional clothes and couldn't speak good Spanish.

His feelings of persecution were followed years later by his arrest, which he says was due both to his support for the socialist opposition and his Mapuche status.

When he arrived in the UK, he settled in Bristol.

Reynaldo Mariqueo
Reynaldo fled Chile and came to the UK
"After living in communities I lived in, it's very different here. People here are very individualistic and don't share much with others. Neighbours don't have any social interaction and that was one of the main things I noticed.

"My people talked to each other more and socialised more. Britain was like that in the past but that has gone and so people suffer from isolation and depression, because of the way people live."

In general, he likes the British, who comprise all his friends, and says it is quite an integrated society.

Since 1978, he has devoted his time to promoting the rights of the Mapuche people. He has been able to return since 1992 but says much of the situation there has not changed.


From the American plains of Dakota to Roehampton, south-west London.

Valerian, 48, is a full-blooded Native American - part Mandan, Hidatsa, Crow and Cree - who grew up on the prairies and valleys of the Missouri River.

Valerian Three Irons
In many ways, the UK is much like the US
"There was a lot of horseback riding. We were very poor but we didn't know it," he says.

The family, which is extended to include all relatives and some friends, was central to his community and strengthened by a culture of respect.

"When an adult came into the room, without being asked the child would give up a chair and bring them water, or a tea or coffee."

But there was confusion at school where he was told by white teachers that his people were immigrants who came across the Bering Straits.

"As a youngster I would sometimes get conflicting information because I would hear one thing at home and another thing at school."

The competitive ethic was also a problem. If a teacher asked a "cousin" a question he couldn't answer, the other Native Americans would also refuse to answer it.

Valerian Three Irons
Valerian speaks professionally about Native American culture
Valerian teaches American Indian Studies in South Dakota and works for organisations trying to preserve the culture.

He came to the UK in February to study a Masters in International Service at Roehampton University.

"In many ways, the UK is much like the US. The "me, me" society in pursuit of the monetary and the striving to fashion and fad."

One episode did disturb him. When he found a local sweat lodge ceremony, which is a weekly prayer meeting to cleanse yourself physically and mentally, he was disgusted to learn they charged 60.

"That's a cultural taboo. You never charge for spirituality. What God has given freely it isn't right to sell."

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | World | UK | England | Northern Ireland | Scotland | Wales | Politics
Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health | Education
Have Your Say | Magazine | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific