Guest Post: Ukrainian Kokum Scarf and Indigenous People

First published on Facebook by Lenora “Lee” Dingus
Nod-doh-wa-ge-no (Seneca) Artist
of Echoes of the Four Directions

Kokum scarf
Kokum scarf courtesy of Lee Dingus

This Is a kokum scarf or grandmother scarf. Kokum means grandmother in Cree.

Today It’s a piece of cloth used in powwows by jingle dancers “as a method of prayer while dancing with pow-wow dresses, It was all so sometimes worn with a ribbon skirt or blouse, as well as a fashion or statement piece. And yes, we sometimes wear them today. We can wear it on our heads or around our necks, or even our waists.

As you can see, they are brightly colored and they have many practical uses. They became a popular staple for Indigenous grandmothers and women in general.

Historically, Grandmothers wore them when they were on the trap lines or as a way to keep their hair back while they chopping wood or skinning an animal, as well as For getting dressed up,The scarf trade started to happen when we started trading with the Europeans many hundreds of years ago.

The scarf dates back to when Ukrainian immigrants were first settling in Canada and the USA in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. “The Ukrainians would trade their stitch work and scarf for our beadwork and vice-versa.” The stitch work became “influenced by our floral designs.

Many people from the Ukraine settled in the Prairies and Great Lakes area and developed relationships with local Indigenous people and developed friendships, and influenced each other and trade started happening, starting with the scarf. There are also other Nations as well that traded for the scarfs that have used and adopted them centuries ago.

Thus was born the kokum scarf as a sign of respect for each other,

I want the Ukrainians to know that Indigenous Peoples are rallying behind the people of Ukraine.”I’m letting the people know they have my support.”

Ukrainian people related to Indigenous people because of the treatment they were receiving in Europe over the years and they saw how we were being treated by the colonists. And they felt a kindred spirit to us.

Today we Indigenous women are honoring Ukraine by wearing or showing this traditional scarf.

The kokum scarf represents strength, empowerment and resilience among our people.”They have always been seen it as a symbol of strength for our women, as well as the Ukraine women.We need to acknowledge and honor where the kokum scarf had come from, and it’s from our Ukrainian friends.

This kokum scarf right now, here makes it feels like I’m doing something, like I’m creating awareness and I’m starting a conversation. It is very important that we hear and listen to our women, our grandmothers.

When we look at the situation that’s happening in Ukraine, it’s truly an indication that the men are not listening to the women. We understand as a people of this land, how important it is that we need to share and help each other, from all countries, Indigenous people’s history is based on listing to our women.

Our collective cultures need to unite once again.

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