First Nations, Métis honour deep connection with Ukrainian community by providing spiritual and material support

Tuesday, March 1st, 2022 10:53am


Image Caption

Photos from the Feeding the Fire Ceremony held by the Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation on Feb. 27. Photos courtesy of Frank Hope.


“We have this relationship with Ukraine and we just wanted to show our support.” — Chief Kele Antoine of the Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation
By Shari Narine
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

On Feb. 27, the Dehcho Dene nation located in Fort Simpson in the Northwest Territories held a Feeding the Fire ceremony to let the many Ukrainian members of their community know they stand in solidarity with them as Russia undertook a violent invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

“We stand with all peoples in terms of peace,” said Chief Kele Antoine of the Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation. “(It was) just something we really felt was needed to do to help our Ukrainian community members.”

In the minus 25-degree Celsius weather, the turnout was “very good” for the ceremony.

Antoine says the Ukrainian members of their community were “appreciative that we would organize and do something for their peoples.”

There is a deep connection between the people in the North and the Ukrainians.

“We wear, here in our community, we call them granny hankies, the floral scarves. Those came from the Ukraine from around the First World War when there were displaced people. We have this relationship with Ukraine and we just wanted to show our support,” said Antoine.

He pointed to the pharmacist in Fort Simpson, Andrew Panshyn and his wife Anna, who both have family in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital city.

“For them they’re not sleeping. They don’t know if their loved ones are going to be around the next day,” said Antoine.

“I hope other nations gather in their communities to show their support that we don’t stand for war,” he said.

In a Tok-tok video, Jay Makokis of Saddle Lake Cree Nation in Alberta, explained the colourful, flowered “kookum scarf” which was gifted to First Nations on the Prairies by the Ukrainian settlers.

“You’ll still see to this day our old people, the old ladies, wearing them in ceremony…. And you’ll see the young warriors wearing their scarves on their head. It gives us pride. We feel very powerful with our scarves on our head,” he said.

Makokis entreated his people to wear the kookum scarves and “pray for our brothers and sisters in the Ukraine.”

Support for Ukrainians have also come from the Métis.

On Feb. 28, the Manitoba Métis Federation passed a unanimous motion to donate $100,000 to the Canadian Red Cross to provide humanitarian aid for Ukraine.

“People of Ukrainian heritage have been neighbours and friends of the Red River Métis for more than a hundred years. Over those years, many have intermarried with citizens of our Nation, which means they are not just our friends and neighbours. In many cases, they are our family. We must stand in solidarity with them and do what we can to provide aid,” said MMF president David Chartrand.

The MMF will be flying Ukraine’s flag on their buildings as “a sign of solidarity and a message of hope to our Ukrainian relatives.” MMF digital billboards will also display a message of solidarity for Ukraine.

“The Red River Métis must do our part to defend democracy and protect fundamental rights, as we did in past global conflicts, like World War I and World War II,” said Chartrand.

In Alberta, Herb Lehr, president of the Métis Settlements General Council, tweeted, “The Métis Settlements stand with our sisters and brothers in Ukraine. We admire your bravery and your deep respect for your homeland.”

On Feb. 24, Russia began a military operation in Ukraine, launching attacks on several cities, according to the government of Canada website.

“Russia’s unprovoked and unjustifiable attack of Ukraine violates international law, jeopardize stability in the entire region and puts countless innocent lives at risk. It also threatens the values and principles that underpin the rules-based international order, including a state’s right to sovereignty and self determination,” says the Canadian government.

Canada, along with other countries in the western world, are providing military equipment and funds to Ukraine, while imposing a variety of sanctions against Russia.

Canada is also matching, dollar for dollar, donations made by individual Canadians to the Canadian Red Cross, between Feb. 24 and March 18, 2022, for crisis relief in Ukraine up to a maximum of $10 million.

Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.