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Native people in North America are in solidarity with Ukraine


There's a brightly colored thread that ties Ukraine with Indian country in the U.S. Ukrainian scarves have long been worn by Native Americans on special occasions. Now they are donning the accessories for social media posts to express solidarity.

Anna King of the Northwest News Network reports.

ANNA KING, BYLINE: So just how did a Ukrainian scarf come to Indian country? It turns out scarves were a trade item when white migrants from the eastern U.S. met tribes in the Northwest. And Ukrainian floral scarves have been widely adopted across the U.S. and in Canada's Cree Country.

BOBBIE CONNER: So if you look in here, you can see three scarves that have hand-beaded slides on them.

KING: That's Bobbie Conner. We're outside of Pendleton, Ore., on the Umatilla Reservation.

CONNER: From bright white to neon yellow and neon green and neon orange...

KING: She shows off three Ukrainian scarves in a glass case. We're in the quiet gift shop of the museum she directs called the Tamastslikt Cultural Institute.

CONNER: ...To the more traditional colors of burgundy, red and dark green, royal blue.

KING: Northwest Native Americans often wear these scarves for powwows, funerals or even important ceremonies. Many times the scarves are called by the Cree word kokum, meaning grandma. Today people are using the hashtag #kokumscarvesforsolidarity when posting selfies.


CONNER: Get the paper sorted out - so...

KING: In old framed photographs, Conner, who's a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, points out her great-grandmother wearing a scarf.

CONNER: Grandma Wyasus, my mom's grandma, was born at Wayam on the Columbia River around 1853.

KING: What's happening to Ukrainian people now feels grimly familiar to descendants of Northwest tribes like Conner.

CONNER: And she escaped a Fort Dalles soldiers' raid at the age of 13 or 14 and canoed alone up the Columbia River.

KING: Conner's grandmother Xhilmat wore scarves all her life, too.

CONNER: So how she wore her scarf told us what kind of day we were in for as children.

KING: Conner lived for many years with her as a child.

CONNER: When she was working at home doing laundry, gardening, making pies, she would tie her scarf with all of the points tied down and tied the knot tied up on top of her head in front.

KING: And Conner points out Ukraine's fight for sovereignty deeply resonates with Native people.

CONNER: It didn't happen very long ago, and it wasn't very far away. It was right here in this country that our people were being treated in the same way.

AARON QUAEMPTS: And so I had seen the hashtag or the social media going, if you have one, wear it for solidarity.

KING: Aaron Quaempts is also a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. He posted a selfie on Facebook wearing a scarf around his neck. Quaempts says he posted because when he watches the news from Ukraine, he thinks of his own family.

QUAEMPTS: It's just, you know, heartbreaking to see people having to go through that - you know, fathers having to say goodbye to their kids while they're evacuating so they could take up arms and, you know, defend Ukraine.

KING: Quaempts says a flowered scarf isn't much, but it is one way to protest and for sovereign Native people to stand in solidarity with the people of a sovereign Ukraine.

For NPR News, I'm Anna King near Pendleton, Ore.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRAMBLES' "TO SPEAK OF SOLITUDE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.

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