Minnesota-based moccasin company apologizes for taking advantage of Native American culture

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Minnetonka, based in Minnesota, began selling moccasins and other Native-inspired gear in 1946. But recently, the company admitted that it had done little to directly honor or compensate them. Native Americans. And last week, on Indigenous Peoples Day, he unveiled a plan to change that. Part of that promise includes hiring a reconciliation advisor, Anishinaabe artist and activist Adrienne M. Benjamin. And she’s joining us now from California. Welcome.

ADRIENNE BENJAMIN: (Non-English language spoken). Morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How were you initially approached by Minnetonka to take on this role?

BENJAMIN: So I was approached by an elder from the Minneapolis community with whom I had previously worked. She and I had some brilliant conversations about, you know, social justice and our feelings about it. And so she kind of knew where I was on certain issues. And that was brought to me first – just like it was some sort of veiled business that has been taking ownership for many years and wants to do better. So I accepted the meeting. And, you know, right away, I think I saw their honesty. They were ready to admit and realize that they didn’t know everything and were very, very willing to listen.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What did they say you inspired that? When did they think they had to do something?

BENJAMIN: So Jori Miller Sherer, who is the president of Minnetonka and who is the daughter of David Miller, who is the CEO, is younger and understands the movements that are happening, you know, across the country, around the world. . And they both expressed that they had been feeling this for a very long time and were honestly afraid to move forward and just didn’t know how it would turn out. They wanted things to be done in a way that was respectful and most meaningful.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yes. As Minnetonka admitted, they have benefited from Indigenous culture for decades. I mean, how do these companies deal with the moral damage that they have caused?

BENJAMIN: You know, I think that’s a big question. And I think it’s important to spotlight, to work with, to pay artists, native artists, for, you know, design work. Part of our plan with Minnetonka moving forward is to spotlight Indigenous artists in Minnesota, the region where the company is located, to do better. I think one of the things I think about during one of the conversations we had about Minnetonka was the thought that I – that’s something I could relate to with them, is that my rear -grandparents were selling crafts on the side of the road near this trading post. And I was explaining, and I’m like, you know, I’m sure there were people selling moccasins too. And it’s like, here’s that truck rolling back, you know, those Minnetonka moccasins that just pulled that economy out just under a reservation area. And so it’s things like that that I think people don’t necessarily think about.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Adrienne, I want to recognize something is that it must also be an incredible emotional burden to have to do this.

BENJAMIN: It’s, you know, and thanks for saying it. I think it’s incredibly meaningful. Yes, that was part of the reluctance to do this job. I think the other part too is that it’s so hard, as a native of a specific tribe, you know, to get into something like that knowing that it hurts a lot. more people, right? Like – and it’s a common thought that people get it wrong too, is that, you know, we’re just Native Americans. There’s a Native American group in the United States, whereas there’s, you know, over 500 specific tribes that all have different belief systems, all have different cultural knowledge, all that stuff. How can I – you know I can’t wrap everyone around to say what they would say, maybe, but I can do what’s in my heart which I think is, you know, the best? thing in the future that will benefit as many people as possible and help Minnetonka do better – you know, be better allies and progress more effectively towards indigenous people.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, I want to thank you for taking the time. I really appreciate this.

BENJAMIN: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is the Anishinaabe artist and activist Adrienne Benjamin, now a reconciliation advisor with the Minnetonka Company. Appreciate your time.

BENJAMIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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