Footwear of Native American Cultures

The North American continent has been occupied since 10,000 B.C.E. and active civilizations have been recorded across the continent as far back as 3,000 B.C.E. The continent's wide variety of climates required the people living in different regions to wear different footwear. For the most part, the inhabitants of the southern regions and the temperate regions of the north preferred to go barefoot, even in the snow. Footwear was used, however, especially for traveling. Crude sandals made from yucca plants or grasses were made by Native Americans living in California and the Southwest. The Iroquois of the Northeast made light shoes out of cornhusks to wear in the summertime.

More durable shoes also came to be used throughout the continent. Called moccasins, these shoes were fashioned out of soft tanned leather. Tribes of different regions designed different styles of moccasin and often decorated them with elaborate designs. The moccasin is the footwear style most associated with Native Americans.

In addition to moccasins and sandals, Native Americans in some regions designed snowshoes to be worn with or without moccasins to make winter hunting easier. The northernmost peoples living in the Subarctic and Arctic, including the Eskimos, created the warmest type of footwear, a tall moccasin boot, which came to be called a mukluk.


Hofsinde, Robert. Indian Costumes. New York: William Morrow, 1968.

Hungry Wolf, Adolf. Traditional Dress: Knowledge and Methods of Old-Time Clothing. Summertown, TN: Book Publishing Co., 1990.

Paterek, Josephine. Encyclopedia of American Indian Costume. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1994.


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