Mar 12, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Some Native Americans see kinship with Ukraine

A cartoon by Ricardo Caté shows a Native American chief putting face paint with the Ukrainian colors on tribal members.
Cartoon by Kewa Pueblo cartoonist Ricardo Caté in support of Ukraine. Photo: Courtesy of Ricardo Caté

Indigenous people across North America are rallying around Ukrainians, seeing in them the spirit of their own ancestors who resisted powerful invaders seeking land grabs.

The big picture: Tribes in the U.S. and Canada are condemning Russia's invasion, launching relief funds and food and clothing drives, and educating members about their own histories and little-known connections to Ukrainians.

Details: The Cherokee Nation, one of the largest tribes in the U.S., said it stands by Ukraine because the tribe has "at times been denied…the ability to chart our own destiny as a people."

  • The Yakama Nation of Washington formally condemned Russia’s invasion and likened it to attacks on tribal nations by non-tribal people upon their arrival in 1492. The tribe then donated $5,000 to the Red Cross.
  • The Oneida Indian Nation of New York launched a Ukrainian War Relief Fund and encouraged tribal members to donate clothing, non-perishable food and first-aid supplies.
  • The British Columbia Assembly of First Nations strongly denounced the Russian invasion and the threat of nuclear war in a tweet.

What we're watching: Some Indigenous women have been posting selfies with colorful scarves along with the hashtag #solidaritywithukraine. The backstory involves a shared history of marginalization between Ukrainians and tribes in Canada.

  • More than a century ago, Ukrainian immigrant settlers in Alberta and members of the neighboring Saddle Lake Cree Nation forged friendships that spanned generations and included the exchange of scarves called "kokum," as NBC News reported.
  • The floral artwork on the traditional Ukrainian scarves was similar to Indigenous art.
  • Tania Cameron, a member of the Niisaachewan Anishinaabe Nation in Ontario, Canada, told Axios members of her tribe have worn the kokum for decades.
Tania Cameron wears a Ukrainian scarf in her office next to an image of other scarves.
Tania Cameron and the Ukrainian scarves she is selling to raise money for Ukraine. Photo: Courtesy of Cameron.
  • Cameron purchased scarves from Ukrainian shops in Winnipeg and started selling them online at cost to raise money during the viral movement. She also organized a raffle and has raised $1,500 for the Red Cross so far. The Canadian government said it would match all Red Cross donations until March 18.

What they're saying: "By no means am I going to say that some of our struggles are the same — because we aren't in wartime," Cameron said. "But certainly, we do have a connection because of the relationships of the past."

  • "When we offer our prayers, we offer them to the world," Kewa Pueblo artist Ricardo Caté told Axios after he painted a piece in support of Ukraine.
  • Caté, who served in the Marines, said he's disgusted by the images of Russian aggression and thought about his New Mexico tribe's own history. "I just hugged my daughter a little tighter," he said.
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