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Colourful Ukrainian scarves symbol of friendship, support from Canada’s Indigenous people

Williams Lake First Nation matriarch Nancy Sandy offers her prayers to Ukraine
The Russian attack on Ukraine prompted Nancy Sandy of the Williams Lake First Nation to step up and show her support for the country and its people. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

Usually one to shy away from the camera, Nancy Sandy, a member of the Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) and former chief, stepped out of her comfort zone in recent days to be one of the first local women to voice her support for the Ukrainian people currently under attack by Russian forces.

Sandy forwarded her thoughts on the situation to her local WLFN government and sent along a photo of herself wearing one of her many colourful Ukrainian scarves she has collected over the years.

A community matriarch, Sandy explained the Kokum scarf, or “grandma (Kyé7e) scarf” originates from the Ukrainian people who entered into trade with the Cree people of Canada. She said today the fabric signifies proud, long-lasting friendships and serves as a beautiful symbol of undying support for the people in Ukraine.

For her personally, the colourful scarves have brought her joy and feelings of home and comfort over the years, as many Indigenous people wear the scarves at pow wows.

WLFN posted Sandy’s thoughts to social media just days after the attack, when residents throughout the Cariboo region were still reeling from witnessing the first acts of war on their televisions, cell phonesand computer screens.

“You know how people say, ‘well what will that do, how will that help?’ … but I was reading another news article and someone from the Ukraine said ‘We know we are not alone. We know there are other people in the world thinking of us and wanting to support us in some way so any little thing you do, you let us know we are not alone.’ That’s the essence of being a human being, you don’t want to be just alone when you are having struggles,” said Sandy.

A lawyer by profession serving as the director of Lakehead’s new Indigenous Law and Justice Institute in Thunder Bay, Ontario earlier this year, Sandy left her job when Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kamloops 215 was announced last spring to return Sugar Cane to do the difficult and important work of collecting information on Indigenous children lost while attending St. Joseph’s Mission. Much of her work with the residential school investigation involves interviews with families and archival research.

“My job is to find the deceased or disappeared Indigenous students on paper.”

She admits the work is heavy and has made her very sensitive to hearing stories of oppression and inhumanity such as the conflict in Ukraine.

“I can only imagine [what they are going through. The news is] hard to listen to, so I don’t listen to too much but the primary message I want to get across about this is that oppression, in whatever form it takes, is oppression. There is oppression between Indigenous Nations for instance, within community. With one family against another or even within a family … when there’s power imbalance then oppression happens and you can’t call it anything but that, and so with the oppression that happens worldwide and people are dying as a result, that’s the epitome of inhumanity.”

Sandy said she is keeping the Ukrainian people in her daily prayers and encourages them to persevere through the oppression they are currently facing.

On Tuesday (March 1), the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs also issued a statement that they stand in “complete solidarity with Ukraine and all Ukrainian peoples in the face of the brutal warfare that Russia is waging.”

“As Indigenous peoples, we fully understand what it is like to have our peoples attacked and our lands and resources stolen at gunpoint. We strongly condemn Russia’s completely unprovoked, illegal and brutal invasion of Ukraine,” stated Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, UBCIC president. Phillip further called on President Vladimir Putin to immediately withdraw all Russian military forces from Ukrainian soil and go back to Moscow to face full punishment for “their brutal war crimes and political accountability to the outraged Russian citizenry.”

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Angie Mindus

About the Author: Angie Mindus

A desire to travel led me to a full-time photographer position at the Williams Lake Tribune in B.C.’s interior.
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