Minnetonka apologizes to Native American community for appropriation – Footwear News


After 75 years of activity, Minnetonka apologizes to the Native American community. Today, the Minnesota-based shoe company publicly announces that it recognizes that its original products launched in 1946, some of which are still sold today, were appropriate for Native American culture.

Minnetonka acknowledged their ownership in the summer of 2020, although CEO David Miller said the public apology was long overdue.

“While our story of appropriation came from a place of ignorance and not malice, the end result was the same – it’s not OK,” he told FN. “On behalf of Minnetonka, we would like to sincerely and meaningfully apologize for benefiting from the sale of Indigenous-inspired designs without directly honoring Native American culture or communities. While we cannot change the past, we are determined to honor and invest in Indigenous communities in the future. Once you start to understand that you have participated in the ownership, you cannot go back and therefore moving forward in a better way is the only option.

On why it took so long to do so, Miller cited the fear of taking that first step and facing a negative backlash.

To strengthen her commitment to supporting the Native American community, Minnetonka hired Adrienne Benjamin as a reconciliation advisor. She is from Minnesota, Anishinaabe and a member of the Ojibwe Thousand Lakes Band.

(left to right) Jori Miller-Sherer, Adrienne Benjamin and David Miller.

CREDIT: Courtesy of Minnetonka

Minnetonka has built a solid business out of her iconic moccasin silhouette, which is an indigenous creation. (“Moccasin” is an Anglicization of the Ojibway word “makizinan”.) One of the brand’s flagship products is also the Thunderbird moccasin, originally released in 1955, featuring “the mythical Thunderbird, a Native American symbol of power and strength, “according to the site.


Moccasin Minnetonka “Thunderbird”.

CREDIT: courtesy of the brand

Benjamin said she was hesitant to join at first.

“There is so much ownership [in fashion] and the following are empty excuses. Especially in the indigenous community, a lot of people are angry and there is mistrust of organizations for this reason, ”said Benjamin. “For me, it was most important that the recognition was there and that there was a real commitment to move forward. The main reason I chose to work with Minnetonka is because I feel like the Millers have a genuine heart and care and the understanding is there.

Under Benjamin’s leadership, Minnetonka is taking a number of steps to make amends, including financial reparations to various Native American organizations, schools, nonprofits, and tribal entities through long-term investments. To begin with, the company will donate $ 25,000 to the Urban Indigenous Legacy initiative in honor of Indigenous Peoples Day.

Whether it’s funding a beading or language course, or bringing indigenous youth to Minnetonka to learn marketing and business tools, the goal is to have a long-term impact outside of a single dollar cut. , said Benjamin.

“If we are talking about repairs, to repair or reimburse, we [should] use that branded leverage that Minnetonka has. Shed light on indigenous artists and do these things to mend those relationships with people who have been very marginalized and exploited in a capitalist way, ”she added.

Minnetonka will provide more opportunities for local Indigenous artists, including redesigning the Thunderbird, for example, or abandoning it altogether. Benjamin will also work with the brand to launch his own limited edition hat this winter.

“On the product front, our current focus is to work with Indigenous designers to showcase their art and pay them fairly. We changed the logo to remove the last signs of ownership. In 1965, we were inspired by the straight lines created by a hand-carved woodworking tool. Today, we have kept those letters but removed the Native American-inspired symbols that we made our own, ”said Minnetonka President Jori Miller-Sherer. “It was a humbling and inspiring journey. We are so impressed and grateful to all the people we met from the Native American community who took the time to have in-depth conversations and showed us patience and honesty.

Minnetonka isn’t the only fashion brand to embrace Indigenous culture. Over the years, many companies, including Urban Outfitters and Ralph Lauren, have used Indigenous-inspired designs for their product, for profit, without any direction from Native American artists.

Brian Patrick Green, director of technology ethics at the University of Santa Clara’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, said it was important for offending companies to publicly admit wrongdoing and take the initiative in remedies. financial.

“This needs to be resolved at the federal level, but the fact that there is a for-profit company using its own money to try to make things better creates an expectation – that it is possible and that it is ultimately the right. thing to do, ”Green said.

When it comes to reparations after years of systemic racism, the question is complicated. But Benjamin said she sees a change in consciousness.

“It’s not something we can continue to ignore. People are starting to wake up.

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