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My True Rez Shoes

The year I had my mastectomy I treated myself and bought a pair of Rez Hoofs. These hand painted boots are made by a couple from Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. In the spirit of ‘shopping native’ I ordered a pair online.

The year I had my mastectomy I treated myself and bought a pair of Rez Hoofs. These hand painted boots are made by a couple from Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. In the spirit of ‘shopping native’ I ordered a pair online. When my boots came in the mail I felt like a kid at Christmas. There I sat in front of the Ohsweken post office using my keys as a makeshift knife to hack through all the packing tape. They were tall purple suede boots with a bold Lakota beadwork design painted on the front and they were absolutely beautiful.

My Rez Hoofs have come through snow, salt, sleet, and sand over the last two years and during every step I felt like a princess. I have worn those boots with some of the most rough looking rez get-ups you can imagine.

Those late mornings when we accidentally sleep in and the kids miss the bus? I’m outside wiping the snow off my car in pyjama pants and my husband’s camouflage hunting jacket rockin’ my Rez Hoofs. Bush dogs got in the garbage again? Never fear! It’s Super Nan scaring them away with a big stick, shouting my best “G’wan…git!” and chasing after them bush dogs with the prettiest feet on Mohawk Road.

This week I noticed a big hole in my boots. So I packed up my kids and trotted off to a certain well known shoe store in search of new boots. A saleslady approached me as soon as I walked in.

“Can I help you?” she sneered at me. Actually sneer is generous, it was more like a hiss.

“Yes, I have a hole in my boots and I need some new ones to get me through the rest of the winter,” I said matter of factly.

The sales lady looked me over, pursed her lips in displeasure and lifted her nose high in the air. “I’m not sure what you are going to find. We’re already getting our sandals shipped in,” she said.

I looked outside, and in front of the store was a snowbank six feet high. I looked at the saleslady and said, “Sandals? It’s February!”

She looked at me like I was from another planet and replied with emphatic disgust, “Uh, yeah….everybody is going on vacation?!”

I wanted to burst out laughing right then and there in the middle of the shoe store. Here I was in the middle of a polar vortex with not a winter boot in sight and sandals as far as the eye could see.

This sales lady followed me through the store from aisle to aisle. My daughters were quietly looking at the children’s shoes and I was starting to get that feeling you get when you know you’re being judged. I don’t need to put up with that, so I went to get my kids to leave. The sales lady said to me in the most condescending way she could, “We would prefer it if your children didn’t try on the shoes.”

This shocked me. What else does one do in a shoe store? I asked, “Why not?”
She replied, “It really messes with our stock.”

Let me paint you some context here. My kids and I were in a discount shoe store for all of ten minutes and were the only customers there. My five year old was very neatly trying on one pair of shoes. I tried to reason with the saleslady about the situation, but she walked over to my child and hovered over her as if she were a bull in a china shop about to destroy the place, even taking a pair of shoes right from my daughters hands.

Everything in my guts wanted to fight this lady. It was like I could hear the screams of the last seven generations of injustice against my people racing through my mind. Suddenly I was in a situation with my two kids watching me and I had a choice: engage in a very negative battle by being nasty right back to this lady or to somehow respond with a good mind, using tact and wisdom to protect my children from the shame that this person was trying to inflict upon us.

I addressed the saleslady in a respectful way and told her we would be leaving. Somehow, I gathered my fury and got my kids out of that store without being rude and without allowing her to make me or my children feel ashamed.

I guess the old adage, “…you can tell a lot about a person by the shine of their shoes…” is still taken literally by some? And if that were the case in this situation; what could she tell about me from looking at my Rez Hoofs?

To the lady who tried to shoe shame me: my boots are salt stained from every trek through the winter snow running errands to take care of my family. My boots are hand painted in brightly coloured Lakota designs. Even though they are falling apart, they still make me feel beautiful. Would you rather I hid all my colours behind a wall of grey plastic? My boots have a hole worn through at the sole on one side. Just like me, they are vulnerable. I am a mom and sometimes my turn to buy shoes comes last. I am okay with that because it means my family’s feet are warm, clean and safe from the ice and cold. These are my ‘True Rez Shoes’ and although you look down your nose at me I am not ashamed of them. I wear them with dignity and hold my head high because in these shoes I have done my job well, even in the midst of great heartache and pain. I might not ever be in need of sandals for a vacation in February, but I will forever be in need of respect.

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Nahnda Garlow

Nahnda Garlow

Nahnda Garlow is Onondaga under the wing of the Beaver Clan of Six Nations. Nahnda has been a journalist with the Two Row Times since it's founding in 2013. She is a self-proclaimed "rez girl" who brings to the Two Row Times years of experience as a Haudenosaunee cultural interpreter, traditional dancer and beadwork aficionado. Nahnda is a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists and the Native American Journalists Association.

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4 Comments

  • Bonita Dolmage
    February 13, 2014, 4:30 pm

    I’d like to post a photo of my newly acquired rez hoofs, but don’t have the technology at the moment. I think, though, that I’d like to share a story that is similar, but also very different. As a white woman who is 65 years old and lived through many heartaches and troubled times, the experience of being sneered at, looked down on and treated incredibly badly just because of the way I was dressed is as familiar as the story above. I wear mukluks because they’re the warmest and most comfortable boot available in this frozen tundra. I wear a hat with flaps because it’s the warmest type of headwear available. The experience you describe in that shoe store from a clerk that is obviously simply rude, arrogant and ignorant, has happened to me multiple times. It has nothing to do with the fact that I’m white and everything to do with what I’m wearing. Our society smacks of assumptions at every turn. I feel for how sad, angry and for the impulse to express that anger to a person who most certainly deserved it. I’m biting my tongue all the time because I’ve learned, first hand, that reacting with anger (or even just smart ass remarks) gets nobody anywhere. I love your writing style. I taught first-year English at the University in Regina for ten years and have remained friends with one of the few First Nations students I had over that ten-year period. He is one of my favorite people in the world. I hear you. I feel your pain. and I’m white. Bless you and your courage.

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  • Benjamin II
    February 13, 2014, 12:10 pm

    Nice, Thanks for sharing! :)

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  • Bridget
    February 12, 2014, 10:18 pm

    Beautiful Response to an ugly situation. I have a pair of Rez Hoofs mine are red, and I say we get a bunch of us together and just go into that store and walk around touching all the shoes and then leave. Kudos to you for not losing it in front of your kids. It would have been a real challenge for me not to.

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  • Sandra
    February 12, 2014, 9:17 pm

    Well written Nan! Beautiful Rez Hoofs and a wonderful, beautiful soul wearing them! :)

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