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“To Feel the Earth in the Southwest” With Moccasins

Some Native Americans wear moccasins to reflect their identity and heritage, or to feel a connection to their ancestors. Others wear them only during ceremonies, as a sign of respect. To many, moccasins play an important role in oral tradition.

Currently displayed at the San Carlos Apache Cultural Center in San Carlos is an exhibit that explores the different purposes of moccasins in Native culture. The exhibit, “To Feel the Earth in the Southwest,” was brought to the center in April, and includes banner displays and a screening of a short documentary.

Herb Stevens, San Carlos Apache Cultural Center director and moccasin maker, with one of the exhibition banners
Herb Stevens, San Carlos Apache Cultural Center director and moccasin maker, with one of the exhibition banners.  Photo by Jenn Walker

To Herb Stevens, the director of the center, moccasins are for any occasion.

“It’s our footwear, our everyday shoes,” he says.

They are practical, too. Traditionally, the Apaches would wear their moccasins folded down in the summer, and rolled up as leggings in the winter, Stevens explains.

“Of course, in those times, we were only five-footers,” he adds.

The exhibit was assembled by Dr. Cynthia Lamar, the director of the Indian Arts Research Center in Santa Fe, N.M., starting in 2009. Lamar reached out to a handful of moccasin makers throughout the Southwest to collaborate on the film and banners.

One of those moccasin makers was Stevens.

Stevens grew up in San Carlos. He began making moccasins when he was 7 years old; he learned by watching his mother and grandmother.*

Nowadays, he will make moccasins for anyone who asks for a pair. It’s a several-day process. He starts with a 10 to 11-square-foot piece of white leather. That one piece is good for just one pair of moccasins; the skin will be folded over into three layers. After cutting and sewing the leather, along with cowhide for the soles, Stevens embellishes the moccasins with beads.

He looks down at his own moccasins on his feet.

“I made these in ’96,” he says. “I’ve only replaced the fourth sole since.”

“To Feel the Earth in the Southwest” will remain on display until May 30, when it returns to Santa Fe. The center is open five days a week, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

*Correction: Originally, this article stated that Stevens studied moccasin-making while attending the Institute of American Indian Arts. Stevens already knew how to make moccasins by the time he attended the institute; he studied a wealth of other subjects while he was there. 

About Jenn Walker

Jenn Walker began writing for Globe Miami Times in 2012 and has been a contributor ever since. Her work has also appeared in Submerge Magazine, Sacramento Press, Sacramento News & Review and California Health Report. She currently teaches Honors English at High Desert Middle School and mentors Globe School District’s robotics team.

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