Lady Chiefs wear kokum scarves in support of the Ukrainian people

The Wyoming Indian girls basketball team under head coach Aleta Moss always has a striking presence when they enter the gym at the state tournament. The team often wears traditional dress as they get off the bus before entering the Ford Wyoming Center, Casper College, or either Kelly Walsh or Natrona County High Schools for state tournament play.

This year the girls were attired as usual in their colorful traditional dresses, but they wore something new, a “kokum scarf.”

“Our Native Language and Culture Department brought in an elder to explain to the girls why they were gifting them to wear the scarves,” Moss said.

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The scarf came to America in the 19th century, worn by Ukrainian immigrants that began farming in southern Canada, the Dakotas, and Montana. The bright, multicolored scarves soon caught the eye of Native people in those regions.

It’s thought that the Cree people were the first to integrate these scarves into pow wow regalia. But far from just something to wear at pow wows, the scarves were popular in everyday wear among both Native and Ukrainian women. Soon they were traded with other tribes and they spread across the west.

The Ukrainian and Cree worked together on farms and in raising cattle. They shared the hardships of life on the brutal plains where bad times and bad luck were common, and only the cooperation of people with a common cause allowed them to survive.

The traditions created between the Ukrainian immigrants and the Native Americans lives on in many of their traditional feasts, and community gatherings. We’re familiar with fry bread, chokecherry gravy, and all the other delicious items in a traditional feast on the Wind River Reservation, but at many Native feasts where Ukrainian immigrants first settled, cabbage rolls, pierogies, and other traditional Eastern European food are also on the menu.

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Tribal elders presented the Lady Chief team with these traditional Ukrainian scarves as a symbol of support for the nation of Ukraine in its desperate struggle against the invading Russian military.

Native people know the horror of being driven from their land by foreign invaders and the imagery of what is happening in Ukraine is all too familiar in their cultural history. They stand with the Ukrainian people in this struggle.

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