The Siksika company supports Ukraine with a centuries-old connection

When Olivia Holloway learned that Russia had invaded Ukraine, she took it to heart, she says.

So, in a show of support for Ukraine, she displayed kokum scarves her family wears at the Boy Chief Trading Post, located on the western edge of the Siksika Nation, about an hour east of Calgary.

“I put the blue and yellow sashes on because of their flag color and the meaning behind the sashes,” Holloway said.

Kokum means grandmother in Cree.

Scarves date back to the arrival of the first Ukrainian settlers in Canada at the end of the 19th century.

Among the goods traded were Ukrainian women’s scarves, called babushkas.

“A lot of people wear them, young people, old people, we all wear them,” Holloway explained.

People walk through the store asking questions about the scarves and their meaning, she said.

“I even explain them to our people, some of our people don’t even know the story, and they’re like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that,'” Holloway said.

Candace Linklater says Indigenous peoples helped some of the early Ukrainian settlers survive the harsh living conditions that awaited them when they arrived in Canada. (Submitted by Candace Linklater)

Candace Linklater is from the Moose Cree First Nation in northern Ontario. She is an educator who focuses on Indigenous resurgence and reconciliation through education, advocacy and feminism.

Ukrainian settlers began arriving in the 1800s, and indigenous people helped them survive the harsh living conditions by teaching them traditional practices, she says.

She adds that the connection between the two cultures is still felt today.

“I know there are many across Turtle Island who wear these scarves out of solidarity, because we understand what it’s like to be bullied,” Linklater said.

At the Boy Chief Trading Post, Holloway says Ukraine is in his thoughts and prayers.

“I hope many people, natives and others, will take the time to learn what the headscarf really means and what it represents.”

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