Published on September 6, 2011 by Amy
Most people know the leather, slipper-style shoe worn by Native Americans by their Algonquin name, the moccasin. However, did you know that this type of footwear is, in fact, a universal apparel element among all of the Native American tribes? We only know them by their Algonquin name because this group of people was the first that the Europeans encountered; most native tribes actually have their own native word for the shoe.
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All moccasins have the same basic construction: sturdy, rawhide leather sewn into a durable and comfortable shoe. However, each tribe has their own way of making the moccasin unique by using their own beadwork, quillwork, and painted designs. In fact, some tribes have such unique moccasins that the common name actually became that of their shoes design; as is the case with the Chippewa and the Blackfoot. Many Native Americans could tell what tribe a person belonged to just by looking at their moccasins.
Other characteristics of moccasin that may differ between tribes are the soles, which some nomadic tribes reinforced with hardened rawhide; and the lining, which northern tribes increased by adding sheepskin or rabbit fur.
Alaskan tribes also created a heavier-duty moccasin that worked well in their harsh climate, called mukluks. While some Native Americans saw the moccasins as a utilitarian object only, many tribes used the moccasin as an extension of their artistic expression, and painted them with elaborate symbols or beautiful beadwork.
Our love of moccasins continues into modern day, with many people opting for this comfortable style of footwear. Some modern moccasins available for sale are mass-produced, and have lost an element of the traditional meaning; however, if you want to support an independent craftsman who creates genuine tribal moccasins, there are many Native American artists who continue to make this lovely style of footwear.