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Updated Nov 15, 2013 - 2:27 pm

Native pride at heart of ‘Rock Your Mocs’ campaign

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Elementary school students in western New Mexico are
wearing their moccasins. So are students at Northern Arizona University, Purdue University
and the University of Michigan.

On the Cherokee Nation, there’s a waiting list for Friday’s moccasin-making
class. And on a military base in Afghanistan, a soldier ties a beaded cross
around her boot to symbolize her moccasins.

Friday is “Rock Your Mocs” Day.

Coinciding with Native American Heritage Month in the U.S., the social media
campaign started by New Mexico student Jessica “Jaylyn” Atsye has gone global.

The 21-year-old Laguna Pueblo member said the idea was simple –to set aside
one day each year to wear moccasins to celebrate the cultures of Native
Americans and other indigenous people.

“When someone asks you, ‘What do your shoes represent?’ or ‘What’s the story
behind your moccasins?’ there can be endless descriptions,” she said. “They
show who you are. They’re an identifier. They can bring unity.”

Moccasins historically were the footwear of many Native American tribes. Though
their basic construction was similar throughout the country, the decorative
elements including beadwork, quillwork, painted designs, fur and fringes used on
moccasins varied from one tribe to another.

Indian people often could tell each
other’s tribal affiliation simply from the design of their shoes, according to
the nonprofit group Native Languages of the Americas.

Observers said the Rock Your Mocs campaign is helping to fuel a resurgence of
Native pride.

By Friday morning, a flurry of photographs had been posted on a Facebook page
Atsye set up for the movement. On Twitter and Instagram, Rock Your Mocs hashtags
showcased hundreds of images, from simple deerskin wraps to knee-high versions
adorned with colorful beadwork.

Then there were the mukluks lined with fur, like the ones being worn Friday by
Jessica Metcalfe, a Turtle Mountain Chippewa from North Dakota who runs the
Beyond Buckskin blog.

“Moccasins can be worn and appreciated by anybody. That’s what’s really cool
about it,” she said. “It’s like you’re wearing these pieces of art. They’re
all unique.”

Metcalfe and others said “Rock Your Mocs” is a chance to educate more people
about indigenous cultures. In recent months, the headlines have focused on
controversies over the Washington Redskins team name and backlashes against
Native American-inspired fashion designs that many in Indian Country have found
in poor taste.

Atsye said she wants to get away from the “whole racial thing.”

“The only way we’re going to be able to succeed is to move forward and forget
all of that,” she said, outlining a string of trying times in Native American
history. “We can’t change that. That happened in the past. Let’s focus on the
things that we can change today.”

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