Why Ukranian Floral Scarves

Why Ukranian Floral Scarves

A message From our Spring 2021 box

Where I’m from, in Treaty 6 territory, Ukrainian floral scarves have become  iconic among many Indigenous Nations. These days, you’ll even see these scarves integrated into pow wow regalia. Us nehiyawak (Cree people) call them “kokum scarves” because kokum means “your grandmother”, a reminder of our grandmothers and a symbol that we carry them with us, when we need them the most.

So, why the floral scarf? On the prairies, there is a vast history of trade and commerce between Indigenous Nations. But what people may not recognize is the history of trade and cooperation between the original peoples and settlers. In fact, the Ukrainian and Cree communities often worked closely together during times of major hardship and famine. Cooperation like this, between Indigenous Nations and newcomers, is a story that is found over and over again across Turtle Island. It was because of this trade, commerce, and cooperation that floral scarves became a symbol of the strength and hard work of our matriarchs.

Long ago, when Ukrainian people arrived in this territory, they brought with them beautiful floral patterned fabrics that were a natural compliment to the floral patterns found in Cree, Dene, and Metis beadwork. Our grandmothers adopted these patterns as they worked closely with their new neighbours to help each other. I guess that also explains why feasts in my community usually feature foods such as pierogies, and cabbage rolls, alongside our traditional foods.  

So what does the floral scarf mean to me? When I was growing up, I often watched nohkum (my grandmother) with her hair tied up in a scarf picking berries, preparing meat, cooking for a feast or watching the grandkids. To me, “kokum scarves” are a symbol that embodies the intrepid and entrepreneurial spirit of my grandmothers: women who worked relentlessly to find opportunity, and to build relationships and cooperation among families and nations to ensure our survival. That’s what “kokum scarves” mean to me. 

For me, the “kokum scarf” also represents a love for one another.

Until later,


Some interesting thoughts shared from our readers:

This is a beautiful expression and remembrance for the Ukrainian and Indigenous people and it is nice having it shared to all!
- Margaret 

Thank you for sharing this history. Reading some of the comments was very heartwarming to me. Similar to some of the other ladies my Ukrainian grandparents settled in Manitoba and spent their first winter in a cave. My grandfather was well over 100 when he passed, and spoke limited English and this story makes me even prouder of my heritage.

-Donna (mother Naydiuk, father Ilchyshyn)


My grandfather was Ukrainian and he must have shared his cooking, gardening and bought her scarves. I grew up eating cabbage, turnip and carrot stews with moose meat or beef, rabbit. There is so much unknown stories from his side like how he got to where he decided to make his home after meeting my grandmother. He did have children along the railway line he worked from Winnipeg, Manitoba to Ontario. Over time, my father met his half-brothers and both families are aware of each other. I only wish it had happened much earlier.

-Star Kostyshyn 
Thank you for telling this story of our shared history. My ancestors settled in the Sheho area, spending their first winter in a hole dug into the ground with a sod roof. I'm sure the indigenous people of the area must have helped them through those harsh winters. This is a lovely story, thanks for sharing.
My grandparents told us that they wouldn’t have survived the first winter in Manitoba without the help of the indigenous people. They tried to repay it during the depression with milk and eggs for the children. They were great neighbors and certainly part of the community.

My Baba came to Canada as a child in the late 1800's and settled in Manitoba. She told me many stories of the Indigenous people who lived near them. She always said she and her family would not have survived the first winter without them. She said that the people of both communities shared knowledge of herbs, and edible plants and many other things. During the Depression my Baba always had a big pot of soup of some kind on a stove in the barn, anyone who was hungry was welcome to a bowl. She said she did this in memory of her friends who helped feed her family when they were hungry. It was lovely to read the story from the people who were her friends.

-Barb Brown (nee Wolczuk) 

I have been researching my own Russian/ Ukrainian history. I grew up with the term Babushka meaning scarf. I just found out that it also means grandmother. I am struck by the fierceness and tenacity of my Russian ancestors and how both the Kokums and Babushkas are so amazing and wise. I intuitively knew this information but it is so wonderful to see it written down! Thank you


Nice article. I live in Vegreville and I am of Ukrainian heritage with many Treaty Six Territory friends. There is much in common in our histories and struggles from the past trying to live on the harsh Alberta climate especially in Winters. Another example of stronger together!

-Lynda Olsen 

This brought tears to my eyes! Thank you!
- Viktoria Kalke 
Very interesting!! Who knew??
-Patricia Pegg 

Thank you for the memory of my grandmother wearing these scarves.


Hi I wrote the book Kohkum's Babushka :A Magical Metis/Ukrainian Tale published by gabriel dumont institute about these scarfs or Babushkas as Ukrainian call them or fushka or khustas.Check out my website for more information www.babasbabushka.ca

What a wonderful story. Cross cultural traditions.

-Oksana Kuryliw