In Indian country, people wear Kokum scarves for solidarity with Ukraine


Bobbie Conner shows how she wears her headscarf at the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute gift shop near Pendleton, Oregon.

Anna King/Northwest News Network.

Brandi Morin lives outside of Edmonton, Alberta, and she says close to her Cree nationthere is a large Ukrainian population.

“My heart was overwhelmed by what was happening,” Morin said.

She says that not so long ago, the native peoples had invaders on their doorstep. And they too had to flee their country with their children.

“I just wanted to express that I am with them in my mind and in my heart,” Morin said. “I care. That I love them. And that we are grateful to them. We are grateful for their friendships we have with them and the relationship and respect they have shown us over the years.

Morin says Ukrainian scarves have a name in the Cree country of Canada – kokum. It means grandmother. But they come from many Slavic countries and go by many different names across the United States.

Bobbie Conner says the brightly colored designs of the basket hats of the Northwest tribes are similar to those of the scarves that later became trade items.

Bobbie Conner says the brightly colored designs of the basket hats of the Northwest tribes are similar to those of the scarves that later became trade items.

Anna King/Northwest News Network.

grandmothers

Across the border in the United States, Bobbie Conner points to her great-grandmother in an old framed photo.

“Grandmother Wyasusmy mother’s grandmother, was born in Wayamnear the Columbia River,” says Conner. “Circa 1853. And she escaped a raid by soldiers from Fort Dalles when she was 13 or 14 years old and canoed up the Columbia River alone.

Her great-grandmother always wore scarves to cover her hair.

Aaron Quaempts is a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation.  He recently bought several scarves for his family in solidarity with Ukraine.

Aaron Quaempts is a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation. He recently bought several scarves for his family in solidarity with Ukraine.

Photo courtesy of Aaron Quaempts

“And this image of her shows her wearing not just a head scarf but her high loafers,” Conner says, “she’s never worn shoes, she’s never worn pants, and she’s never been has never had her hair cut.”

Conner lived for many years with his grandmother, Xhillat.

“When she was working around the house doing laundry, gardening, making pies, she would tie her scarf with all the stitches tied and the knot tied in front,” she says. “And so, how she wore her scarf let us know what kind of a day we were as kids.”

Conner is the leader of the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute on the Reservation near Pendleton, Oregon.

The museum’s gift shop sells neatly folded Pendleton blankets, lingonberry candy, and — for powwows, funerals, and root feasts — stacks and stacks of scarves.

“From bright white to neon yellow to neon green and neon orange,” says Conner. “In the more traditional colors of burgundy, red, dark green, royal blue.”

eerily familiar

Scarves were the first trade items when immigrants encountered tribal peoples. What is happening to Ukrainians seems eerily familiar to descendants of Northwest tribes, like Conner.

Brandi Morin, from the Cree Nation of Alberta, Canada, says she wears a scarf in support of Ukraine.

Brandi Morin, from the Cree Nation of Alberta, Canada, says she wears a scarf in support of Ukraine.

Photo courtesy of Brandi Morin.

“It didn’t happen very long ago and it wasn’t very far away,” Conner says. “It was right here in this country, not so long ago, that our people were treated the same way.”

Aaron Quaempts is a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation. He bought several scarves.

“I had seen the hashtag or social media go by, if you have one wear it out of solidarity,” Quaempts says.

When he watches the news from Ukraine, he thinks of his own family.

“It’s just heartbreaking to see people having to go through this,” he said. “Fathers need to say goodbye to their children as they evacuate so they can take up arms and you know how to defend Ukraine.”

From Indian country to Ukraine – there is a small thread of brightly colored material that unites people in pain and hope.

Left is Bobbie Conner's grandmother, Xhilmat, also known as Elsie Spokane Conner, right is Conner's great aunt, Tamskuutalil, also known as Vera Spokane Jones.  Both were children of Wyasus who had 15 children, 13 of whom died in infancy.

Left is Bobbie Conner’s grandmother, Xhilmat, also known as Elsie Spokane Conner, right is Conner’s great aunt, Tamskuutalil, also known as Vera Spokane Jones. Both were children of Wyasus who had 15 children, 13 of whom died in infancy.

Photo courtesy of Bobbie Conner.

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