Minnetonka Moccasin has issued a formal apology for appropriating Native American culture without acknowledging the communities that inspired the products.
"We deeply and meaningfully apologize for having benefited from selling Native-inspired designs without directly honoring Native culture or communities," CEO David Miller said on Monday, which marks Indigenous Peoples' Day in Minnesota.
The Minneapolis-based shoe company was founded by a white family 75 years ago in 1946, selling moccasins and Native-inspired accessories to gift shops.
The company's original products — some of which are still sold today —"have been appropriated from Native American culture," Miller said, noting the word "moccasin" is also appropriated; it's an "anglicization of the Ojibwe word 'makizinan.'"
Minnetonka Moccasin seems to have dropped many mentions of the word "moccasin" on its website and in the CEO's statement, referring to itself as just "Minnetonka." The company previously dropped "moccasin" from its logo in 2008, and has since redesigned its logo to no longer include Native-inspired symbols it had appropriated.
The company says it first "publicly acknowledged" it appropriated Native culture in the summer of 2020 with a post on its website about the company's "commitment to the Native American community," with Miller saying that was "long overdue."
"While Minnetonka has evolved beyond our original product set, moccasins remain a core part of our brand, and in 2020 we began to step up our commitment to the culture to which we owe so much," Miller said in his statement. "We are dedicated to honoring our commitment to Native American communities with our actions going forward."
Minnetonka says it started working with Native American advisors last year and has since hired one of them, Adrienne Benjamin, to be the company's reconciliation advisor.
“While systemic change can be a painfully slow, stressful, and drawn-out process; it has also always been the most rewarding part of my career. To change even one mind, to be given a chance to educate others, and to open doors for other Native people through the same channel was an opportunity that I couldn’t refuse," Benjamin said in a statement.
Benjamin is a member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, an activist, and an Anishinaabe artist. She penned a note about her partnership with the shoe company, saying Minnetonka had begun doing internal work on a plan to deal with appropriation issues in small steps, but following George Floyd's murder, they knew it was time for "more bold approaches, moves and changes."
She detailed the company's plan and commitment to the Native American community, which includes the company investing in communities it financially benefited from due to cultural appropriation; giving more opportunities to Indigenous artists/designers on collections, apparel and fabric designs (coming in December 2021 is a collaboration with Benjamin); and hiring more models of color for ad campaigns.
The plan also includes doing more business with Native-owned businesses and actively recruiting Native American workers, among other things.
"We have been working tirelessly on messaging, opportunities, donations, and networking with individuals to make these plans come to fruition," Benjamin wrote. "It has been my utmost joy and honor to help this process along and watch as the opportunities for growth occur; not only for Indigenous artists and youth, but for this company and its owners as well.
"Showing the world a different way to be and being a leader in doing the right thing is never easy, but I truly give the Millers credit for stepping up, educating themselves, taking the heat, and giving it their best efforts," Benjamin added.
In honor of Indigenous Peoples' Day and its ongoing commitment to the Native American community, Minnetonka Moccasin says it will be donating $25,000 to the Urban Indigenous Legacy Initiative.
"We will continue to move forward in a manner that acknowledges and honors the Native American culture, design, and people who have influenced our brand and business. This journey will remain important to our company forever," Miller said in his statement.