Shoes around the World: Native American Footwear

By | October 8, 2014

People the world over throughout history have worn shoes which not only reflect the fashions of their time, but tell a story about the lands and climate in which they lived.

For example, today’s trend for women to wear stiletto heels is particular to Western city dwelling, amongst middle-to-upper class socioeconomic groups. In centuries to come, stiletto heels will tell future anthropologists much about the people who wear them today, and the lifestyle they lived.

Amongst the Native North American Cultures (previously referred to as American Indians), Moccasins and Mukluks were the traditional footwear which, to this day, we associate with these tribal peoples. They were worn for warmth and protection during travel.

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1890 Cheyenne moccasins (Image www.snowowl.com)

Traditional Native American clothing was wide and varied between tribes, yet the moccasin was almost universally worn. The word “moccasin” is an Algonquin word; this tribe was the first encountered by Europeans and hence is the name we use. The moccasin was a sturdy slipper which was sewn from tanned hide or leather. Usually deerskin, it was stitched with sinew. Some tribes used hardened rawhide for the soles. In cooler areas, rabbit fur was used to line these shoes.

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1890 – Chippewa Moccasins (Image www.snowowl.com)

Native Americans could tell one’s tribal affiliation by the design of their moccasins. Moccasins differed in their cut and also in their beadwork, fringing, quillwork, and even painted decorative designs. These shoes were worn by both men and women, but with variations. For example, Plains Native American women wore moccasin boots, which were thigh-high leggings sewn onto moccasins.

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Shoshone moccasins (Image: Google)

Mukluks were heavier duty boots worn by the Inuit (Eskimos). Made for wear in snowy and icy climates, they were made of fur, sealskin, and reindeer hide; some tribes who lived below the Arctic Circle and were introduced to the Mukluk during trade journeys adopted the style but used buckskin or caribou instead of sealskin.

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Vintage Inuit Sealskin Mukluks (Image: Google)

Moccasins are one of the few footwear styles which have stood the test of time with little alteration – they are still made and sold today, worn both amongst Native tribes as well as the western mainstream.

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Kiowa moccasins (Image: Google)

Moccasin Styles by Tribe – Map

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Image: http://www.nativetech.org/clothing/moccasin/mocmap.html

The footwear of the Native American Tribal Nations tells us much about their innovation, their lifestyle, and their tribal identity. Just as we, today, wear shoes, like stiletto heels, which reflect our own lifestyle and cultural conditioning…

Yours Jalni