Native Americans and Ukrainians in a Parallel World

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When Ukraine was invaded by the Russian Federation in 2022, some Native Americans* and First Nation Peoples of Canada quickly recognised the parallels between their history and that of Ukraine. The tragedy unfolding in Ukraine further instilled an already existing kinship between these Indigenous Peoples and Ukrainians due to their shared history of brutalisation by colonists. The Indigenous Peoples of the continent recognised that the early Ukrainian settlers had come from lands stolen from them to their lands, also stolen.

*Use of the term Native Americans  in the above paragraph refers to more than one of the Indigenous Peoples of the U.S.

Map depicting Native Americans and Ukrainians in a Parallel World.

Dr Francis Whiskeyjack tells his story of early contacts with Ukrainians

The majority of young Indigenous People who were forced to labour on farms throughout the prairies, were not compensated for their work. However, Dr Whiskeyjack was treated kindly by the Ukrainian family he worked for, and he took pride in his ability to generate money to support his family on the reserve. One summer, I worked for him, and he gave me a large, plump sow! I got it transformed into bacon and meat. They always had great big gardens, and they’d give me beets, carrots, corn and all kinds of vegetables to bring home to my family.”

Dr Francis Whiskeyjack.
Dr Francis Whiskeyjack

Photo: CC BY-SA 2.0 Deed via Flickr. Image has been cropped.

When Dr Whiskeyjack was initially sent to work for a Ukrainian family at the age of 14, he was given a respite from his torment on earth at the Blue Quills Residential School near St. Paul, Alberta. In an interview with Cultural Survival, he recalls, “They were really kind.” “The farmer would take me under his wing and give me wages at the end of summer.”

Dr Whiskeyjack was trained in operating and maintaining farm machinery as well as agricultural tasks like baling hay. He was also well-fed on the farm.

According to Dr Whiskeyjack, the Ukrainian cuisine of pyrohies, sausages, and cabbage rolls was particularly delicious. He says that even after working for Ukrainian farmers for several summers, he encountered other Ukrainians when he started working at a nearby power plant. He said that they always treated him as a “brother,” which was in sharp contrast to the treatment he received from the French settlers who lived nearby, who denigrated him due to his Indigenous heritage.

“The relationship was good. I never encountered any prejudice from the Ukrainians in our neighbourhood, therefore, I didn’t find that they were ever racist. The Ukrainians must have known what it was like to be viewed as less intelligent than people of other races. They upheld our nation’s dignity and exhibited compassion. On the other hand, if I visited St. Paul, I recall that the French were prejudiced and held a strong dislike for Native Americans”.

Upon finding out about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Dr Whiskeyjack was instantly filled with worry for the people of Ukraine. He said several First Nations communities in the area are holding sweat lodge ceremonies* for Ukraine, and he has been praying for those who are in the line of fire. “I am already familiar with the feeling of being mistreated, and this war feels like colonialism all over again, someone who is attempting to subjugate you and your nation. From a humanitarian standpoint, I see it as another Holocaust”.

*Many Native American societies practice sweat lodge ceremonies, which are important spiritual, cultural, and utilitarian rituals.

Source: Adapted from Cultural Survivals. Read the full article.

Native Americans and Ukrainians wearing kokum scarves in solidarity with Ukraine

Tribal member David Brown Eagle and his wife wearing a kokum scarf on her hat.
Tribal member David Brown Eagle and his wife

The Kokum scarf* is the most popular name for a head scarf introduced to North America by Ukrainian settlers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These colourful scarves were traded for equally colourful Native North American beadwork.

*Kokum is the Cree word for grandmother.

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many Native North Americans and First Nation People of Canada started wearing kokum scarves en masse in solidarity with Ukraine. Previously the main use of these scarves was ceremonial.

Photograph: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Deed via Flickr by Maureen McCarthy.

The photograph above is from the 122nd Arlee Esyapqeyni Celebration Powwow from 2022 in Arlee, Montana. Spokane Tribal member David Brown Eagle and his wife are pictured. David Brown Eagle’s wife has her hat decorated with a kokum scarf, a Native American and First Nations show of solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

Indigenous communities use kokum scarves to show solidarity with Ukraine

Watch the video from CBC News: The National.

The Cherokee Nation condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine

The Cherokee Nation, one of the largest Indigenous Peoples of the U.S. quickly voiced support for Ukraine through Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr., who tweeted and posted on Facebook on 26 February 2024, that:

Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.
Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr

The Cherokee Nation stands with the people of Ukraine and condemn in the strongest possible terms the unlawful invasion by the Russian Federation. Our Nation knows well how vitally important the right to self-determination is because, in our history, we have at times been denied that right and the ability to chart our own destiny as a peoples.

To see this unjustified use of brutal force is both disheartening and distressing. It also is in direct contravention of Russia’s obligations in the UN Charter safeguarding the territorial integrity of states and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which state in clear and unequivocal terms that all peoples have a right to self-determination. That includes, of course, the Ukrainian Peoples. We call on the United States and all its NATO allies to stand steadfast and resolute and take all necessary steps to repel this heinous act of aggression.

Source: Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr’s Facebook Page and X Account. In 2022, X was known as Twitter.

The Yakama Nation condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine

The Yakama Nation Tribal Council of Washington formally denounced Russia’s invasion and compared it to attacks on tribal nations by non-tribal people, upon their arrival in 1492. Subsequently, the tribe sent the American Red Cross 5,000 USD to support their members working in eastern Europe.

Source: The Yakima Herald-Republic media outlet.

Divisive aspect of relations between First Nations and Ukrainian settlers and their descendents

In the interest of objectivity, I have written about another aspect of early and later relations, specifically between the First Nations of Canada and Ukrainian settlers and their descendants.

In March 2022, Leah Hrycun was interviewed by ATPN National News. At the time, she was a researcher and PhD candidate at the University of Alberta. Currently, Hrycun holds a Graduate Teaching Assistantship at the University of Alberta.

Hrycun tells us that:

Numerous tales exist of Indigenous People reaching out to Ukrainian settlers to guide and support them during their first winters in their new land. However, I’ve also heard incredibly sad tales of Métis and First Nations individuals being shunned by Ukrainian families.

Nevertheless, by wearing kokum scarves and sharing these images on social media, Indigenous People have been demonstrating support for Ukraine during the Russian invasion, which started with a full-scale attack on 24 February.

In the beginning, the early Ukrainian settlers had a lot of empathy for Indigenous People because they went through a lot of the same struggles.

However, as concepts of multiculturalism grew throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the Ukrainian-Canadian population began to find a home within the country’s wider white settler society.

Around this time they began to genuinely embrace the same mindset as the rest of Canada’s settlers. They were now a part of the sizeable population of white colonists.

Just as mainstream Canada had done, they frequently went back to marginalising Indigenous People.

Source: Adapted from ATPN National News. Read the full story and watch the video.

This post about Native Americans and Ukrainians in a Parallel World  is based on information trending on the internet in 2022 for the topic of Native Americans and Ukrainians and their solidarity with Ukraine. Now that we have entered the third year of war in Ukraine, with mainstream media having refocused on other tragic events throughout the world, I would be interested in finding out if there are more current events or information based on the topic of this post.

Perhaps you are one of the people or Indigenous Nations I have written about and you would like to add to this story. You could be Indigenous American, Ukrainian or of Ukrainian descent.

If you have further information, I will be grateful if you could write to me. My contact details are here.

In summary, I would like to leave the final words to a quote from Dr Francis Whiskeyjack.

From a humanitarian standpointI see it as another Holocaust.

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