‘They had a commonality’: Author says Ukrainian and First Nations women came together through scarves

Kohkum scarves are popping up all over social media, as Indigenous Peoples rally behind the people of Ukraine.

The colourful, floral scarves, worn by many Kohkums are linked to early Ukrainian settlers who traded wares with First Nation’s women.

As the daughter of Ukrainian immigrants, a Saskatoon author knows the story well.

Marion Mutala’s parents came to Saskatchewan around 1911 and had always called the scarves babushkas.

She wrote the book Kohkum’s Babushka after a chance meeting at a Saskatoon book fair, where she was selling her 2010 book Baba’s Babushka.

“A gentleman, an Indigenous man, came up to me and said ‘Babushka, papooska, that’s a Cree word.’  And I said really, ‘that’s interesting because it’s a very interesting history.’ The babushka, as you know or the head scarf in Ukrainian the word is Fuska or Huska.

Mutala says the man’s observation made her curious. It turns out, the connection came out of early friendships and trade between Ukrainian women settlers and First Nations women.

“…because they didn’t speak the same language, right?  But, as women, they had a commonality, and in this book I will often say ‘different-but good,’” she says.

Mutala says the commonalities go further. Ukrainian and First Nations and Métis people share similar culture—seen in the fiddle music and dancing, in spirituality, and values—such as respect for grandmothers.

“And, if you notice the baba or the grandmother is so important-the Kohkum to many cultures, right, the elders, right?  I think it’s important to recognize and honour women.”

Mutala has written 17 books—the latest is Race to Finish which examines systemic racism against Indigenous and Black people.


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