This article was written in collaboration with Marisela Amador.
Beloved moccasins have survived years of cultural appropriation, colonialism and dismissal, and yet, they still keep our resilient toes warm.
It’s Rock Your Mocs week, as you must already know, since its all over social media.
From Sunday, November 15 to November 21, Onkwehón:we were invited to share photos and videos of them wearing their moccasins using #RockYourMocs as a positive way to honour and promote the culture.
The worldwide social media event was added in 2013 as part of the National Native American Heritage Month, which goes throughout November. The idea came from Jessica Jaylyn Atsye of the Laguna Pueblo tribe in New Mexico.
Rock Your Mocs started as a single day, November 15, before expanding to an entire week, to unify Onkwehón:we globally via different social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Whether they are handmade by those wearing them, received as a gift or purchased, moccasins have symbols.
“It all comes back to the culture that was taken away from us,” said Kanehsata’kehró:non Kawisaienhne Albany. “This shows that we still have a lot of our tradition here - and alive.”
Some might listen to music while creating their moccasins and meditate, but for 22-year-old Albany, it’s Netflix and beading. She explained that before the pandemic, Kanesatake organized evenings at the Tsi Ronterihwanónhnha ne Kanien’kéha Language and Cultural Centre, where community members would meet to either knit, bead or simply to socialize.
Albany started to learn the craft only two years ago, but is already known as one of the best young beaders in Kanesatake. She explained that she recently started to dream about design and colours, which inspire her art. Although she added that her imagination can sometimes make the creation trickier.
“You put it all on, and sometimes it doesn’t match what you had in your head,” she said.
The second-year Ratiwennenhá:wi student is a beautiful example of the younger Onkwehón:we generation’s desire to perpetuate the culture. In fact, she is part of a massive youth movement.
On Instagram, where 75 percent of the users are 18-24 years old, more than 14,500 posts with keywords Rock Your Mocs were shared while the hashtag was viewed 152,000 times on TikTok, a platform that has a similar age audience.
Albany agreed that while Kanesatake is slowly getting into the craft of beading and moccasins, Kahnawake is already on that train.
Local and prominent artist Kahnawa’kehró:non Martin Loft posted a picture of his beautiful moccasin on social media to celebrate and honour the Indigenous cultural tradition of making and wearing moccasins.
And of course, for Rock Your Mocs day.
“I have owned these moccasins since about 1996 and have worn them to many gatherings, powwows, festivals, and they even travelled with me to Europe twice,” said Loft.
Loft’s moccasins were made by his sister, Pauline Loft-Sylliboy.
Loft-Sylliboy has taught dozens of craftspeople in Kahnawake how to make moccasins, starting in the 1990s when very few were making them, according to Loft.
“I am so proud of my daughter (Carlee Loft), who is a McGill graduate and practices the moccasin making tradition. I am certain she drew her inspiration from her aunt and other makers in the community,” he said.
Loft believes that wearing moccasins is a tangible symbol of Indigenous identity and a connection to Mother Earth.
“When you wear moccasins, you walk softly on the earth. It grounds you. It carries the beauty of our culture in beads which have been used to decorate our clothing for centuries,” said Loft.
According to Loft, local moccasins are unique, with floral images representing the beauty of the natural world.
“Mine have traditional skydomes and geometric designs which predate the use of beads. Also, my sister beaded a good luck charm on them, so every step brings me luck. It is a gold coin which I love,” he said.
Loft-Sylliboy learned how to make moccasins by watching elders and craftswomen from the community. She also saw beadwork at the old Indian Village, where her family danced and sold crafts at her uncle John McComber’s venue.
Loft said that Rock Your Mocs is great because it gives Indigenous People throughout North America the chance to show what they do here in the northeast.
“I have answered questions and shared my love of our traditional art forms. It is uplifting to know it will be here for generations in an unbroken chain from our ancestors,” said Loft.
Loft said that it is gratifying to see so many great beadworkers continue to develop new ideas and designs in their beadwork and find local and national markets.
The more young people see it as normal, the more they appreciate it and possibly try making it themselves for gifts or for sale.
Sedalia Fazio posted pictures of her different moccasins every day this week in celebration of Rock Your Mocs.
“I’ve been wearing mocs my whole life! I rarely wear anything else. I wear them everywhere and in all weather!” said Fazio.
Her grandparents wore them as well. Fazio said that her moccasins are part of her identity.
And what does she love most about them? “Walking softly on Mother Earth!”
Virginie Ann, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door