Manitobah: Making Mukluks, Building a Legacy

Thousands of years ago, Inuit, Yupik, and other Native peoples inhabiting what is now Canada had to make it through some of the coldest winters on Earth.  So they invented a winter boot called a mukluk.

In 1997, when he was right out of business school, 23-year-old Sean McCormick and his sister Heather founded the footwear enterprise in Winnipeg, Canada, called Manitobah.  The siblings not only wanted to create world-class footwear.  They wanted to revive, honor, and celebrate the traditions of Canada’s First Nations.

Trying out Manitobah mukluks while snowshoeing.  (Photo by Frank Meek.)

Trying out Manitobah mukluks while snowshoeing. (Photo by Frank Meek.)

I recently opened the box carrying my Manitobah-brand Hunter mukluks.   I was immediately impressed with the copper-toned cowhide suede.  When I ran my fingers and palm around the interior lining of the mukluk, made of sheepskin, I touched the softest fabric I had ever felt.

While Manitobah’s traditions reach back thousands of years, they also pride themselves on using the best of modern materials and technologies.  Their partnership with Vibram has produced soles graced by Native American art yet rugged enough for walking around in our urban concrete jungles.

So how would the mukluks work while snowshoeing?  I wasn’t sure.  On my first walk to my snowshoeing site, I found my feet stayed warm and dry on snowy and icy sidewalks and streets.  Then I discovered that the mukluks held up well while snowshoeing and did everything I wanted them to do.  They passed that first test, and have continued to pass each test since.

And so I now look at my mukluks as a gift.

A gift handed down to me by hundreds of generations of winter-savvy Metis people from the Manitoba region – of some 68 tribes, including 23 who live in places not accessible by all-weather roads.

Snowshoeing in Manitobah mukluks.  (Photo by Frank Meek.)

Snowshoeing in Manitobah mukluks. (Photo by Frank Meek.)

A gift of peoples who have for millennia crafted mukluks out of hide and fur – in a way that reflects their customs, cultures, and views of Deity, the afterlife, flowing life energy, and nature.

And a gift of an enterprise that is owned by a Metis brother and sister of my own generation – and a business leader who is doing everything he can to keep the traditions, values, history, and identity of his people alive and vibrant for future generations.

I cherish my mukluks and I commend Sean McCormick and Manitobah – both for their commitment to total quality in artistry and craftsmanship and for their profound cultural vision.

Check out the Hunter mukluk by Manitobah:

About the author

Mike Goodenow Weber

Mike has been a professional writer since he was 22. He has written two thousand speeches and an equal number of printed texts. Mike began his career as a journalist for the international human potential journal Brain/Mind Bulletin and authored the 2007 book Visionary Behavior: Creative Intelligence in Action. A man who refuses to live anywhere but the Rockies, Mike has lived most of his life in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and now resides in Jackson, Wyoming. Mike became a correspondent for Snowshoe magazine in September, 2014. He is the Executive Director of the Recreational Snowshoeing Association and the lead organizer of the March, 2015, Grand Teton Snowshoe Games.

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  • Bro, check your facts. We, Metis people, we refer to ourselves as a Nation, not a tribe. Check your vocabulary, this isn’t the 1950’s! Oh yeah, you might mean the province of Manitoba, it’s not a region. We got provinces up here now! And FM Radio too!

    • Yes, terms for our continent’s indigenous people, that was the hardest part about writing this article. In the U.S., the terms Native American, Indian, and tribal are all equally respectable. Canadians use the word aboriginal, but the chiefs have passed a resolution disavowing this term. I went with First Nations and Metis, but this is the first I’ve heard of Native peoples not liking the term tribe or tribal. I read one article stating that Canadian Indians have yet to come up with a truly good term to describe themselves beyond the individual name of each tribe or nation. Across our hemisphere, there are 500 nations or tribes, of course, and referring to them as one people is problematic for all of us. I’ve spent a lot of time with Native Americans, been blessed with Native American friends since first grade, and even worked on tribal policy issues with tribal leaders from across the U.S., so I hope that my respect for Native peoples is reflected in the article. It’s a sensitive area, and I’m glad you took time to post your view.

    • I’m aware that Manitoba is a province, but I wasn’t sure that all the First-Nation people I was referring to lived in the province, so that’s why I used the word region.

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