According to the news reports, the Nike company has developed what it claims to be the first shoe designed specifically for Native Americans.

Itís allegedly an "effort aiming at promoting physical fitness with high obesity rates."

Well. Hmm. What?

Nike says the shoe, the Air Native N7, is "designed with a larger fit for the distinct foot shape of American Indians, and has a culturally specific look. It will be distributed solely to American Indians; tribal wellness programs and tribal schools nationwide will be able to purchase the shoe at wholesale price and then pass it along to individuals, often at no cost."

Okay. So. Uhm. Huh?

Listen, listen. They say they looked at the feet of more than 200 people from more than 70 tribes nationwide and found that in general, American Indians have a much wider and taller foot than the average shoe accommodates. The average shoe width of men and women measured was three width sizes larger than the standard Nike shoe.

The report says that the N7 name is a reference to the seventh generation theory, used by some tribes to look to the three generations preceding them for wisdom and the three generations ahead for their legacy.

Now, Iíve always known I have a wide foot. Thought I got that from my grandpa Gaudet, though. My mother always said I did.

"Those shoes are too tight," I would tell Mom when I was a young tike.

"Mais," she would say, half-frowning and half-smiling, "you got Pa-Popís foot, too wide!"

Edwin Gaudet, my maternal grandfather, apparently had a wide foot. I never remember my dad mentioning anybody on the Stouff side having wide feet, but he did complain about having wide ones himself.

So maybe I have the Native American foot, but I admit, I havenít made a comprehensive study of another Indiansí feet. I wonder, though, if itís politically correct to market a shoe based on a population problem of obesity, and if so, would an obese white person not benefit from the same shoe, or is there some kind of magic built into the stitching that makes it only work on Indians?

Maybe so, maybe so. Still, I feel kinda funny about it. I donít think Iíve ever heard of a product designed and manufactured and marketed for any other specific ethnic group, especially based on their social problems.

I wonder if Nike spent a few weeks examining the feet of Native Americans and conducting interviews:

"So," Mr. Nike Researcher asks, "do your feet hurt you a lot?"

"Yes," says Miss Indian In Oklahoma. "My grandfatherís did, though. Something awful! Forced march from North Carolina, you know, Trail of Tears and all that. He had issues."

"Of course, of course," says Mr. Nike Researcher sympathetically. "And yourself? Do you experience any foot pain, numbness or tingling sensations?"

"They smell when I come out of the sweat lodge," Miss Indian In Oklahoma said. "But then, the rest of me does, too."

"Here, try these shoes on," he says, handing her a prototype pair of the new Nike N7. "Howís that feel?"

"I donít feel any urge to go run laps around the reservation, if thatís what you mean," Miss Indian replies, twisting her foot back and forth to examine the shoes. "They are cute, though. I like the little feathers on the side. Very culturally respectful."

"Would you pay $42.88 for them?" the Nike man asks.

She frowns. "If I could win enough at bingo, sure!"

"Well, you donít have to! Weíre going to give them to you at a substantially reduced cost!"

"Thatís nice. I still donít like running laps around the reservation, though," Miss Indian says.

Now, this may seem insensitive to you, but it really is a matter of "you gotta laugh to keep from crying" for us.

In 1981 I was riding in a car through Flagstaff, Arizona, and we passed a convenience store with a handwritten sign on the door reading, exactly like this:


Little ways down the street, a Navajo was passed out beside a park bench. There was a spilled bottle of gin at his side, and another man was stealing his shoes. I didnít notice if the Navajo had wide feet or not. I was wondering if heíd be alive when he woke up.

Maybe Nike could build a shoe factory on the Navajo reservation to employ Indians to make shoes for white people? Maybe they could do a little research and development on the social, civil and religious conditions that push alcoholism, drug abuse and domestic violence rates on reservations higher than any other economically or socially deprived area in the country?

The problems facing indigenous people are far too numerous to list. We, as Chitimacha, are among the fortunate. By and large, Native Americans are still facing higher risks of death from numerous causes than most other ethnic groups. I stood on a mesa at Oraibi, on the Hopi Reservation about 27 years ago and watched kachina dance in the firelight. Only moments before, someone had just told me how their son died when he drove off the side of the mesa because the brakes on his derelict car went out. He had no money to fix it, but was trying to find a job in town.

Okay, okay, maybe Iím being a little too hard on Nike. So they did what they do best, made a shoe. Guess thatís nice of Ďem, really.

Next time, I wished theyíd ask somebody what they really need rather than trying to figure it out for themselves.