PABLO — History can be told through culture.
Last Friday in Pablo, culture was celebrated through footwear.
In honor of Native American Heritage month, The People’s Center celebrated Rock Your Mocs Day with a round dance and potluck at the center.
Education director at The People’s Center, Marie Torosian, said someone started the day last year and it went viral on Facebook. The idea is for everyone to wear moccasins to work or school to spread cultural awareness. This was the second year the center has participated, she said, and she hopes to continue the annual Nov. 15 event.
“It’s a small way to bring awareness to our heritage,” she said, adding that events like Rock Your Mocs are a way for the center to honor not only local tribes, but also the 70 other tribes represented at Salish Kootenai College.
Torosian, who makes and beads moccasins, said historically you could tell which tribe someone was from by the patterns of the beads on their clothing and moccasins. Now nearly everyone who learns will borrow designs from other regions, so it is harder to discern where moccasins are from.
Traditionally moccasins were made from buckskin and porcupine quills dyed with colors from the earth such as berries, flowers and roots. When fur traders came to the area, beads were incorporated into clothing using an awl and animal sinew.
Modern day beaders use needles and thread to attach beads to buckskin, a process that still wears on the artist.
“You can always tell the beaders by their fingers,” Torosian said.
Buckskin is still used to make moccasins, though it is more expensive and harder to come by. Soaking and tanning the hides is a painstaking process that must be done right so the skin is soft enough to stick a needle through easily. For a good hide, a buyer can pay up to $300, Torosian said.
She has seen a surge of younger people picking up the traditional languages and crafts. Torosian said the biggest part of preserving the culture is preserving the language, but all parts of the culture including traditional foods, plant uses and outfit construction are important.
“It continues our identity,” she said. “I plan to do whatever I can to continue to teach [these skills].”
Torosian said The People’s Center will hold a moccasin making class sometime in December when supplies are available. The charge for the class is the cost of the buckskin, which can be between $25 and $100, Torosian said. Students must provide their own beads and thread.
She said she hopes people will view the center as a resource. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, Torosian said, because the center is a place to come and learn.
A beading circle is held every Thursday at The People’s Center from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is open and free to the public.