Why Natives Are Rocking Their Moccasins

An interview with the 21 year old who started Rock Your Mocs, a worldwide day to mark indigenous roots.

By Aura Bogado Nov 15, 2013

For many indigenous peoples around the world, moccasins are big part of ones’ culture. Moccasins are often a baby’s first pair of shoes, created from a plant or from the hide of a specific animal from the region, and they are worn during most ceremonies. Although mass-produced moccasins have gone in and out of fashion for non-Natives, handmade moccasins, which are often hand beaded, hold a special significance for indigenous peoples, but they’re not always worn in public.

Two years ago Jessica Jaylyn Atsye, 21, who is tribally enrolled with Laguna Pueblo, set out to change that when she started Roc Your Mocs, a call for Natives to wear their moccasins every November 15. She started her effort in Laguna Pueblo, the event has taken off with Natives on social media. It’s expected that tens of thousands within the United States will be wearing their moccasins today. We recently caught up with Atsye to talk about the beginning of Rock Your Mocs and where it’s headed next.

How did Rock Your Mocs get started?

It started in 2011, and I actually chose the November 15th date randomly. Somewhere in my mind, I knew that this was Native American Heritage month. But Rock Your Mocs started off jokingly one day when my mom, siblings and I had just finished a ceremony. We got back home, I was looking at my feet, and I said something like, "These mocs are so comfortable, I wish I could wear them every day."

And so I decided to start a day when all Natives could wear our mocs together, because they mean everything to us. Mocs go everywhere we go. Mocs see everything we see. They’re a big part of our culture. For some, it’s deer hide. For others, it’s moose hide. For the Laguna Pueblo, we wear deer or elk hide. But I’ve always been in tune with other nations, and we all wear mocs. So I told my mom about the idea, and she encouraged me to go for it.

I posted it on Facebook as an event, but back then, it was hard to even get 20 people to join. I think we only had about 100 people at most.

Now you’ve got more than 13,000 signed up on your page alone, and there are other Rock Your Mocs pages on Facebook, along with a hashtags on Twitter and Instagram. 

I’ve seen that there are a lot of Rock Your Mocs events, and I think that has a lot to do with Emergence Productions–they promote Native artists. They like that I took this initiative and are now promoting the event, all for free. So more people know about it, and of course it means different things to different people. But I think we all understand that we can be side-by-side in the world. Everyone gets the unity part of it, and for me, that’s really awesome. It makes me really happy to see that [Natives] are still here, and that we know that we are still here. It gets people excited about our cultures, about our nations. And I like that [Rock Your Mocs] is being used a bridge the gap between urban [Natives] and traditional life–all connecting back to who we are, and to our roots.

How do you feel about the event turning so popular this year?

There was a point in my life when I really didn’t know where I was headed and the response to Rock Your Mocs has made me feel blessed. I have the opportunity to make a difference in this world–and I mean the world. This isn’t for indigenous people in Laguna Pueblo, or within the United States; this is really for indigenous people everywhere.

This gives me hope for the next generation, and to keep going for them. We know that we can’t forget out identity, our culture, our roots. [You] can have a lot of money, and big, luxurious stuff but you can’t buy where you’re from, and you can’t buy a tradition. And so I’m blessed. I’m blessed to be a part of this.

Where did you spend your first two Rock Your Mocs years?

The first year I was here at Laguna Pueblo. The second year, I went to Santa Fe, New Mexico, just to see who was rocking their mocs. I went to Santa Fe Indian School, and everyone was wearing them. Then, I went to the Institute of American Indian Arts, and took a lot of photos, because everyone was wearing them there, too.

What are you excited about for this year’s?

This year, I’m going to be a guest on Native America Calling to talk about Rock Your Mocs. Miss Pueblo of Acoma is hosting a Rock Your Mocs community walk and corn dance. I know that the University of New Mexico is having an event, too. My mom works at a local senior center, and they’ll be rocking their mocs. Hopefully soon, we’ll have our own place to host this annual event.