Native American knee-high moccasins, a long-time staple footwear of the Plains Indian tribes as well as of the Inuit tribes of northern Alaska and Canada, continue in popularity today because of their durability, protection from the elements and comfort. Modern Native Americans still wear and sell many traditional types of Native American knee-high moccasins.
Forerunners of knee-high moccasins originated with early Plains Indian women who made buckskin leggings separate from the shoe. The hide was cut wide at the knee and narrower at the ankle.
These accessories were made for protection as well as warmth and laced up the sides with leather thongs.
Later the leggings were attached to the shoe using sinew and leather lacing.
Eventually, Plains Indian women made knee-length moccasins from one piece of hide. The soft-soled Indian shoes were moose hide, and hard-soled ones were made of buffalo hide. Both types laced up the front. Winter interiors were lined with rabbit fur or dried grass to keep out the cold.
Early Native American men's knee-length moccasins, whether soft-soled or hard-soled, regular moccasins or boots protected them from stickers and brush, and the soft soles allowed them to walk quietly without disturbing the foliage underfoot.
Many knee-length moccasins were decorated with beads, quills and some Comanche knee-highs actually had round silver buttons that coincided with handmade button holes up the outside leg seam. Staining the leather was a common practice as well. Each tribe had its own design of bead work or quill work, and an individual's affiliation could be identified by the design on his moccasins.
The Inuit Indians of northern Canada and Alaska developed the knee-high mukluk made of fur, reindeer hide or sealskin. Some Indian tribes in the subarctic regions borrowed the idea and used buckskin or caribou.
Nine Button Navajo/Pueblo
The nine-button, knee-high moccasin popular today among the Navajo and Pueblo Native American Indians dates back hundreds of years and is still used in ceremonies. The exterior is available in many colourful shades of leather suede. Extra-thick white leather bottoms mould to the shape of the foot. When the moccasin is first put on, the inside of the sole is hard, but as it is worn day after day, it gradually becomes moulded to the shape of the foot and in time becomes as comfortable as a sock.
Modern Native American Knee-High Moccasins
Today, modern Indian tribes offer handmade knee-high moccasins for sale in First Nation stores and online.
Modern long-fringed dancing boots have sheepskin lining in the foot section and fleece for the leg section. The outside is cowhide suede, and the soles are Vibram, a rubber-based material.
The winter mukluk's top section and the exterior shoe are made quite similar to the dancing boot in that they are composed of cowhide suede and rabbit fur with sheepskin lining, and the soles of the shoe incorporate Vibram or crepe.