How a Romanian Guy Ended Up In Canada Lobbying For The First Nations
This has been the most common question I have been asked this past year (2017): "How does a Romanian guy end-up in Canada lobbying for the First Nations?" It is a valid question since I am often out at protests, or talking to politicians about First Nation issues, be they educational matters, environmental, health, or treaty related.
The first part about how I ended-up in Canada is pretty simple: after the 1989 Romanian Revolution, my parents decided it was time to move. The dictator was disposed of but things were murky and uncertain in the country. After the fall of the dictatorship there was a vacuum of power and corruption ran rampant. Looking for a stable country available for us, Canada ended-up as the destination. I came here as a teenager and with the Revolution at my back, I grew-up as an activist, going to protests, giving interviews where and when I could, standing for photos and talking to politicians.
In the last few years I have had members of the First Nations tell me that other First Nations people have been asking questions after seeing photos of me carrying the Ganienkeh/Unity/Warrior Flag. As in: "Who is this guy? Why is he carrying a First Nations flag, if he is not of the First Nations?" And some are wary. I cannot blame them. For the most part, the white man has deceived them for centuries. I am a white man.
I was born and raised in Romania, in the 1980s and I suppose that is the key. Growing-up in a dictatorship, experiencing oppression, knowing what going to bed hungry means because there wasn't always enough food ... these things had a lasting effect on me. I cannot turn a blind eye to injustice, to unfairness, to oppression, to bullying. I simply cannot, or will not.
Growing-up in Romania was tough. Certain food items were rationed. Things like sugar and cooking oil, You would go with a card and get your monthly ration (I think sugar was two kilos and cooking oil was four liters), the person at the cash would stamp it and that's it, see You next month. Yet, even things that were not rationed were difficult to get. For example, the queue for bread would often go out of the store and around the building. It might take hours just to buy bread and if You were at the end of the line, good luck because You might not get any. There simply wasn't enough.
I remember going up to Attawapiskat, the Cree Reserve in Northern Ontario and going into the grocery store. The prices were unbelievable. A can of pop was $2,50, or You could get a case of 12 for about $22. I heard fruits were subsidized but a small bag of apples I think I saw for $16, or $17. A 375g package of cooked ham was $11. People up there simply cannot afford proper food. It was sad to see, to say the very least.
In Romania as kids, my parents would take my sister and I up in the mountains near my grandmother's village, in the late summer to gather fruits. We'd pick berries: blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. Out of these we would make jam to last us in the winter. My grandmother would also grow a pig from the spring to the fall and that pig would be used from head to toes for food in the winter, as well. Nothing would be wasted, not even the tiny tail. We just didn't have enough food.
My friends at Dokis First Nations go hunting for deer and moose in the fall, while in the spring they go spear fishing from boats. They do not do this for fun, or some sort of entertainment. They live like this. They live off the land. There is no grocery store on the Reserve. To get groceries You have to drive out a good hour. So, in some ways, they still live off the land. Just like my family lived off the land back in Romania. I grew-up like that.
Last point I wish to make is regarding the Medicine Herbs. I carry two pouches. Or, better say: they carry me. Among other things, one of them has White Buffalo Sage, one of the four Sacred Medicine herbs used by the First Nations here in Canada. It is used for Smudging, basically bathing in the Smoke from It. This cleanses and protects. It is done in the same way in Romania but instead of White Buffalo Sage, people use Wormwood. That is what my second Medicine pouch contains: Wormwood. So, Wormwood and White Buffalo Sage are both around my neck. They come from two different cultures yet, used for similar reasons.
I see myself when I see people of the First Nations. I feel like I can relate to them in many ways. I feel closer to them than I feel to many other Canadians. We walk(ed) similar paths. Thus, I do what I can and I pop-up wherever the Great Spirit guides me to. I'm the White Wolf, the Strange One, Mr. Happy, or whatever You wish to call me: that Romanian guy lobbying for the First Nations. I'll keep going for as long as I can.
All the best to everyone! Mitakuye Oyasin.
P.S. The photo was taken by a Greenpeace photographer this past fall (2017) and that's me with the Ganienkeh/Warrior/Unity Flag. The Flag was given to me by Eagle Claw from O'Chiese First Nations, Alberta, Canada.