November 01, 2007

Native shoes debut

Nike takes step to ease Native health issues

Feet--The company's new Air Native shoe aims to get a vulnerable population exercising, but it comes with controversyVanessa Short Bull walks on dancer's feet: slender, yet knobby from years of ballet.

She's spokeswoman for a new Nike athletic shoe--released today at the start of American Indian Heritage month. It's built for what Nike says is the distinct Native American foot: quite wide in the front, more narrow at the heel.

"In my family, my nephew and aunt had very wide feet," says Short Bull, who does outreach for the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board. "Nikes didn't fit."
Is a "Native shoe" racist or stereotypical?Since Nike announced the Native Air last month, doubters in blogs and in the news media have questioned whether such a diverse people could share a such a unique foot trait. Native Americans are among the most racially mixed, with many tribes requiring just one one-quarter Native ancestry or less.

Still, Nike says its science is sound. A pattern emerged after scanning the feet of 224 Native Americans ages 17 to 65 from Warm Springs to Florida.

"It's not the position of the company that all Native Americans have wide feet," says Bob Applegate, Nike spokesman. "There is a tendency. If you are a Native American and want a product that addresses this need, Nike has that. If you have a more traditional foot, Nike already has that."

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