Sunday, November 28, 2021

Moccasins firm admits it’s founded on cultural appropriation of Native Americans

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The shoemaker has publicly apologised (Picture: Minnetonka)

An American shoe maker has said sorry for profiting from native culture and pledged more support for indigenous communities in future.

Moccasin manufacturer Minnetonka acknowledged its own cultural appropriation after 75 years in business.

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CEO David Miller admitted on Monday that the apology was long due overdue since the company was not native-owned.

Posting on the popular brand’s website, he wrote: ‘We deeply and meaningfully apologize for having benefited from selling Native-inspired designs without directly honoring Native culture or communities.

‘While Minnetonka has evolved beyond our original product set, moccasins remain a core part of our brand, and in 2020 we began to step up our commitment to the culture to which we owe so much.’

The shoe is made from deerskin or leather and has been linked to indigenous culture for hundreds of years, with Native Americans pioneering the traditional design.

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Mr Miller noted that the Minneapolis-based company had previously acknowledged its appropriation in the summer of 2020.

A demonstrator wears a traditional Native American headdress during an Indigenous Peoples' Day protest outside of the White House in Washington, U.S., October 11, 2021.
The announcement was made to coincide with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, when demonstrators protested outside the White House in Washington (Picture: Reuters)
Grabs from Minnetonka Moccasins website 10088611 Now Moccasins are racist! Minnesota firm apologizes for making the traditional shoes because it isn't a Native American-owned business
(Left to right) Minnetonka president Jori Miller Sherer; new reconciliation adviser Adrienne Benjamin and CEO David Miller (Picture: Minnetonka)

Minnetonka said it has hired Adrienne Benjamin as a reconciliation advisor to better address the needs of the Native American communities.

She is from the Anishinaabe people and a member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

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The company timed its latest announcement to coincide with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

President Joe Biden said October 11 would be observed as a day to honour Native Americans, making him the first US president to do so.

Grabs from Minnetonka Moccasins website 10088611 Now Moccasins are racist! Minnesota firm apologizes for making the traditional shoes because it isn't a Native American-owned business
Minnetonka have been in business making moccasins for 75 years (Picture: Minnetonka)
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/REX/Shutterstock (12534998e) Vice President Kamala Harris delivers remarks to the National Congress of American Indians at the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Campus on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times) Vice President Kamala Harris addresses the National Congress of American Indians, Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Washington, Dc, United States - 12 Oct 2021
Vice President Kamala Harris said the US must do everything it can ‘to address the impact of the past on native communities today’ (Picture: Rex Features)

It comes amid a long-running debate in the USA around racism, which was given new emphasis in the wake of the black lives matter protests last year.

American Football team the Washington Redskins recently rebranded as the Washington Football Team after years of criticism from Native American groups.

In the UK, rugby team the Exeter Chiefs have declined to change their name.

Minnetonka promised to also make a concerted effort to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion of underrepresented groups within the company.

It added that it had made updates to the language it uses when describing itself and its products and reaffirmed a commitment to collaborated with local Native artists and designers.

Minnetonka said it would also look for more partnerships with Native-owned businesses to be vendors and suppliers, saying it had done business with two different Native-owned companies in the past year.

On Tuesday, US Vice President Kamala Harris said that the European explorers who first landed on US shores had ‘ushered in a wave of devastation for tribal nations, perpetrating violence, stealing land and spreading disease.’

She told the National Congress of American Indians, the largest U.S. organization for native peoples: ‘We must not shy away from this shameful past, and we must shed light on it and do everything we can to address the impact of the past on native communities today.’

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