Can you really understand someone by walking a mile in their moccasins? During Native American Heritage Month I ended up walking not only a mile but 117 miles to find my answer.
There was a lot of pride in my first step. It validated the time and skill it took to make my tribe’s mahkisina. The flaps were plain and undecorated, but I thought they were beautiful every time I looked at my feet.
The transition from a lifetime in sneakers was a shock to my feet. Without that half-inch of rubber, my feet felt every acorn shell and leaf on the sidewalk. After a week, the sensory overload dulled to a whisper I barely paid attention to. What I didn’t realize, though, was that I started to rely on the information my feet were telling me.
I remember going for a walk in tennis shoes by myself after the month was over. Lost in my thoughts I heard leaves crunching. Startled that someone had snuck up on me, I look around but I was still alone. Looking down, I saw my feet standing in a pile of leaves. I had gotten so used to feeling and hearing leaves crunch underfoot together, that without my mahks and without feeling the leaves, my mind didn’t think I had stepped on any.
The month wasn’t without its troubles though. The soft-soled moccasins of the woodlands weren’t much of a match for the abrasion of modern pavement and roads. I began to panic at the end of day four, 15 miles in and I already had holes in the buckskin bottoms. Not willing to give the project up this early, I kept wearing my mahkisina… each day the holes still growing. During that time I reached out to my tribal elder, Scott Shoemaker, who guided me to the idea of sewing soles to the bottoms.
After a nine-mile round trip for supplies, I spent the next two days letting my feet heal, the cement having rubbed my foot raw through the holes, and struggled to think my way through attaching the soles. Then I decided to just do it. It wasn’t much of a plan, but at the moment it felt like if I didn’t overthink it, that my hands would just do it. At that moment I felt connected to a bigger knowledge than my own. We all have the blood of our ancestors flowing through us, and it felt like their hands guided my sewing as it all came together.
What I got out of this project was much more than what it was like to wear mahkisina for a month. It was experiencing the world in a different way and reconnecting a broken line between me and my ancestors. We often look to the future for answers but fail to look back.
This personal project of mine was inspired by “Rock Your Mocs” founder Jessica Atsye, inspiring people to wear their traditional shoes and build a community. This year “Rock Your Mocs” ran from the 9th to the 16th, and I would encourage anyone interested to participate next November.
Featured image New vs Worn Moccasins. Photo by Jared Nally