Moccasin History

Traditional Native American clothing varied widely from tribe to tribe, but one nearly universal element was the moccasin, a sturdy slipper-shaped type of shoe, sewn from tanned leather. The word "moccasin" comes from an Algonquian word (also spelled mocasin, mocassin, moccassin, mocassions,or mocussin, depending on the language and transcriber), but that is only because Algonquians were the first Indians encountered by Europeans--they were used as footwear from Sonora to Saskatchewan, and though "moccasins" may be understood and accepted by all of them at this point, most Indian tribes have their own native word for them.

All American Indian moccasins were originally made of soft leather stitched together with sinew. Though the basic construction of Native American moccasins was similar throughout North America, moccasin patterns were subtly different in nearly every tribe, and Indian people could often tell each other's tribal affiliation simply from the design of their shoes. (In fact, the common names of some large nations like the Blackfoot and the Chippewas refer to their characteristic moccasin styles.) Tribal differences included not only the cut of the moccasins but also the extensive bead work, quill work, and painted designs many Indian people lavished on their shoes. In some tribes hardened rawhide was used for the sole for added durability, and in others rabbit fur (or, later, sheepskin) was used to line the leather moccasins for added warmth.

Plains Indian women also wore moccasin boots sometimes, which were basically just women's thigh-length leggings sewn to their moccasins for a one-piece look (very beautiful when fully quilled). Heavier-duty boots called mukluks were the invention of the Inuit (Eskimos), who made them of sealskin fur, and reindeer hide; some sub arctic Indian tribes adapted the mukluk style through trade or other contact with the Inuit, using caribou or buckskin instead.

Our thanks to the Native Languages of the Americas Organization  (w.ww.native-languages.org ) for their kind permission to cite this information

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