Moccasin maker Minnetonka apologizes for appropriating Native American culture


A child-sized Minnetonka suede and leather moccasin, pictured in 2011. The company apologized for appropriating Native American culture and pledged to do more to support Indigenous communities.

Carlos Osorio | Toronto Star via Getty Images

Minneapolis-based shoe company Minnetonka is not actually run by Native Americans, its CEO admitted Monday.

David Miller released the statement on Indigenous Peoples Day, apologizing for benefiting from Indigenous culture and pledging to do more to support Indigenous communities in the future. He noted that Minnetonka first publicly apologized for the appropriation in the summer of 2020, calling the step “a long time ago.”

“We recognize that our original products, some of which are still sold today, were appropriate for Native American culture,” Miller wrote. “We deeply and meaningfully apologize for benefiting from the sale of Indigenous inspired designs without directly honoring Indigenous culture or communities.”

Miller said he was issuing the statement in order to “directly answer two questions that have been asked of us often (and rightly so): Does Minnetonka belong to the natives? Does Minnetonka support Native American peoples or causes?”

Indigenous culture has been at the heart of the brand for 75 years

Minnetonka started in 1946 as “one of many companies that sold Aboriginal-inspired handcrafted moccasins and accessories to roadside gift shops,” Miller explained, and is now in its fourth generation. family property. It originally made its products in Minnesota, but has since staggered manufacturing operations in factories in China and the Dominican Republic.

As the company has since evolved to sell other types of footwear and accessories, it has recognized that “moccasins remain an essential part of our brand”. And it wasn’t just the product that was appropriate, Miller said: the word “moccasin” itself is an Anglicization of the Ojibway word “makizinan”.

The company in fact redesigned its logo in 2008 to remove the word moccasin, which previously appeared under his name in a slightly smaller font. Another redesign from last year removed Native American inspired symbols above and below the letter “T”.

“For many years we have privately supported Indigenous causes in our home state of Minnesota – but just giving back isn’t enough,” Miller wrote. “We are taking a more active and public position to support Indigenous communities.

The company calls on a “reconciliation advisor”

He said the company developed an action plan last fall and was working with members of the Indigenous community to implement and expand it. She called on one of her advisers, Adrienne Benjamin, as a “reconciliation advisor”.

Benjamin, who is Anishinaabe and a member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, is an artist and community activist. In a blog post for the company, she wrote about overcoming her initial hesitations and outlined several priorities for her new role.

“When a business is challenged, there are always words, but real change and efforts undoubtedly begin with the redistribution and sharing of resources,” she writes. “Given that a lot of the wealth in this business comes from ownership, it would be fair for this business to really reinvest in the communities it stole.… For me, that has to come first. No artist , activist or the like will want to work with or trust an organization that does not put its money where its mouth is in reference to its ownership and the benefits they have received from it. ”

Minnetonka’s action plan includes five central commitments to the Native American community: staffing, brand language, design collaborations, business relationships, and philanthropy.

These pillars involve more actively recruiting from Native American talent pools and other under-represented groups, using more transparent language to describe the company’s background and Native American influence, collaborating with local Native designers on future shoe collections, seeking more indigenous-owned businesses as potential partners and contributing financially to Indigenous organizations in and beyond Minnesota.

“There is a lot to be excited about for the future of this business and the opportunities for Indigenous artists to be a part of moving forward,” Benjamin wrote.

Minnetonka made the announcement on Monday – the first Indigenous Peoples Day to be recognized by a US president.

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