Vincent Schilling
Indian Country Today

In 2016, the iconic multi-award-winning musical artist Pharrell Williams, perhaps best known for his hit song “Happy”, met with citizens of the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation in order to collaborate on the launch of his Humanrace NMD sneaker.

The sneaker was immediately successful and well-received by enthusiasts.

Pharrell Williams has collaborated with artist Dee Jay Two Bears to create the Humanrace Sičhona sneaker and is promoting it with the “I am Dakota, We Are Dakota” photo campaign with Standing Rock community members. (Photo Andrew White)

But in addition to the launch of his sneaker, Williams also sought a way for Indigenous communities to use his platform as a way to share their own cultures and ways of life with the world.

In 2021, Williams, in collaboration with Native artist Dee Jay Two Bears, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, released a new adidas sneaker called the Humanrace “Sičhona.”

In 2021, Williams, in collaboration with Native artist Dee Jay Two Bears, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, released a new adidas sneaker called the Humanrace “Sičhona.” (Courtesy image)

The sneaker was immediately popular and sold-out, though officials at Humanrace and adidas have informed Indian Country Today that more are on the way. "Though the initial colorway of the Sichona sneakers have sold out, additional colorways of the silhouette will continue to become available in 2021 through adidas, humanrace.com, and through select retailers."

According to adidas and Williams Humanrace company, the word Sičhona “borrows from the Indigenous phrase for ‘connecting to the earth’ the Dakota way of saying ‘Barefoot.’ Pharrell's aim with this project was to reflect the feeling of being connected to the earth beneath you and the design process was inspired by the inherent beauty of the natural topography of the Dakota land.”

The collaboration

Williams has worked closely with Two Bears on music, art, and fashion projects for many years.

Dee Jay Two Bears (Courtesy image)

According to a news release, “For the launch of the Humanrace Sičhona silhouette, Pharrell collaborated closely with Dee Jay to identify individuals within the Native community with unique voices and compelling stories that they wished to share. Furthermore, Tim Mentz, a Dakota Elder, assisted in choosing the name for the silhouette itself. The visual campaign accompanying the launch was shot by Indigenous photographer Brian Adams and creatively directed by Josuê Rivas.”

In an interview with Indian Country Today, Williams said that he and Two Bears are both artists that are inspired by music and culture and when he first began to design the Sičhona shoe, since it is an item people wear close to the earth, he first wanted to name the shoe “barefoot.”

“When I first saw where the shoe was going in the design process, I realized that it was planted close to the earth. I really wanted to name it barefoot,” Williams said.

During the design process of Williams’ previous shoe, the Humanrace NMD, he met with Two Bears and his family, as well as the Standing Rock community where he was invited to participate in a sweat and attend a dance celebration.

When the time came for Williams to design his latest shoe, he asked Two Bears for an inclusive name. “I gotta ask Dee Jay,” Williams asked, “What's a better way to say barefoot or something close to the earth? He came back with Sičhona, and it was just like, wow. Okay. When he hit me with that name, I was like, oh, that's the one.”

Two Bears explained the complexity of the meaning behind the word Sičhona.

“Sičhona is one of those old words that means close to the ground or barefoot or put your foot in like the dirt or the grass,” he said. “We're all Indigenous to this land. We just forget that we're Indigenous. And we’ve laid our imprints, we’ve laid our footprint on these lands for thousands of years.”

Humanrace Sičhona sneaker (courtesy image)

According to the Humanrace and adidas companies release, for Williams, “the development of his new sneaker began with the desire to create an emotive object. One that is both derived from and meant to evoke innate feelings. The process of creating the shoe stemmed from a search for an inherent connection with the earth.”

The design team utilized Futurenatural technology for the sneaker which the adidas company asserts is “built to last for the natural challenges of everyday wear.”

The adidas company describes Futurenatural technology as “a one-piece shoe mold that allows the foot to function freely by removing elements that would normally be restrictive. The forward-thinking technology is a design process that seamlessly merges the silhouette's Primeknit upper with its anatomically molded TPU midsole - resulting in a naturally fluid look and feel.”

The "I am Dakota, We are Dakota" campaign

Synonymously with the release of the Humanrace Sičhona shoe, Pharrell and Two Bears also collaborated to create the "I am Dakota, We are Dakota" campaign, a series of photos with members of the Standing Rock community wearing the Humanrace Sičhona shoe.

Jonna Brady, 18 and Toriee Brady, 17, Jingle Dress Dancers. (Photo: Brian Adams)
Lance Bradley, 15 and his brother George Bradley, 14, Traditional Singers. (Photo: Brian Adams
Maize Two Bears, 16 - Skateboarder, Horse Rider, and Rodeo Bull Rider. (Photo: Brian Adams)
Joe Jahner, 20 - Basketball player. (Photo: Brian Adams)
Tokala Little Sky. (Photo: Brian Adams)
Trae Little Sky, 27, his daughter Mia Grass Dancer and his son Tokala Little Sky. (Photo: Brian Adams)
Zaniyan Iron Eyes, 14 - Activist. (Photo: Brian Adams)

As described by Williams’ Humanrace company and adidas, “Both the campaign and the shoe itself are invitations from Pharrell to the world to experience and learn more about the Dakota land and its people. The campaign seeks to challenge widely held perceptions by offering a truthful, authentic, lens into the lives of the Dakota people - seamlessly oscillating between contemporaneity and tradition as the cast themselves see fit.”

Additionally, adidas and Williams will assist in funding a 10 kW solar array training and demonstration project for the youth of Standing Rock. The project will seek to provide clean energy to power a community center and a “broader educational platform.”

Two Bears also added thoughts about the campaign’s origins.

“When we thought about using the word Sičhona, the Dakota word for barefoot, I thought, ‘All right, ‘I am Dakota. We are Dakota. In the past 10 years, Native Americans have been coming back a lot more than ever before. We're in the news, we're in the media, we're being talked about and we're being recognized a lot more,” said Two Bears. “My brother Pharrell, who has an amazing platform and who uses the platform for good all the time, we thought we're going to use this platform to help, and put a mark on the world where we can make people be consciously aware of what's really happening.”

“We are the human race,” says Williams, “We are humanrace. And it has to be inclusive to everyone. And the Native American story is one of many.”

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