For the Ojibwe and other northern people, snow shoes (or aagime) were essential to winter travel, survival, and hunting.
The wooden frame used to make snow shoes was generally harvested from the ash tree, while the netting was made from deer, moose, caribou, or even horse hide. Snow shoes could come in a variety of styles and sizes – depending on the purpose needed, the terrain to be crossed, or for different snow and ice conditions that might be encountered.
The ordinary large snow shoe was made with much care and craftsmanship. It was made in the shape of a boat, with a narrow head, wide body, and narrow tail. The frame is kept in its shape by two cross-bars, one before and one behind where the foot sits. Each of the three divisions is filled with close-plaited webs of leather cords, whose ends are passed round the frame and cross-beams, and firmly fastened. In the front and back the meshes are closer together, while in the center they are wider. The snow shoes are made to be about one-and-a-half feet across in the middle, and five feet long (or more) in total length. The foot rests on the shoe and is held in place with a “bimikibison” (meaning foot bandage) that keeps the foot in place while walking.
The way in which walking was accomplished was to make sure not to press the shoes into the snow itself, but rather to keep weight even between the two shoes at all times. The snow shoe wasn’t actually lifted from the ground, but was dragged as gently as possible over it, sliding along as a person might shuffle in slippers.
Depending on personal taste, snow shoes would sometimes be painted with various colors and symbols, and any number of tassels or ornaments might be used to make them beautiful. The colorful tassels were called “nimaigan,” a word meaning snow-shoe tassels.
Sometimes, it might be necessary to make shoes in an emergency, or a much smaller shoe was needed in areas of extremely thick forests. In such a case, a person might make a smaller, oval snow shoe known as a “makwasaagim,” or bear-paw snow shoe, because of their resemblance to a bear’s foot.
If walking was to be done on the open plains or large lakes, a pair of large, flat snow shoes that curved up at the end might be made. These shoes were extremely long (over 6 feet or more) and were excellent for covering a lot of ground. They easily glided over flat terrain and could handle rocks and other small lumps as they would skate over the top of them. These were especially useful during night journeys.