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Sam McCracken, manager of Nike's Native American business program, shows the new Nike Air Native N7 shoe, built specifically for Native feet and adorned with "heritage call outs." ((Don Ryan/Associated Press))

Nike unveiled on Tuesday what it said is the first shoe designed specifically for American Indians, in an effortto promote physical fitness in a population with high obesity rates.

The Oregon-based company says 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 $42.80 wholesale, then pass it along to individuals.

"Nike is aware of the growing health issues facing Native Americans," said Sam McCracken, manager of Nike's Native American Business program. "We are stepping up our commitment … to elevate the issue of Native American health and wellness."

Nike said it is the first time it has designed a shoe for a specific race or ethnicity.

It said all profits from the sale of the shoe will be reinvested in health programs for tribal lands, where problems with obesity, diabetes and related conditions are near epidemic levels in some tribes.

The company anticipates selling at least 10,000 pairs and raising $200,000 US for tribal programs, representing less of a financial opportunity than a goodwill and branding effort.

"The reason I like it is that, even if there's not a big Native American market, it gives people the impression there is a constituency that deserves attention," said John Dickson, a member of the executive council of the Native American Leadership Alliance in Washington, D.C.

Researchers consulted 70 U.S. tribes

Nike designers and researchers looked at the feet of more than 200 people from more than 70 tribes nationwide and found that theaverage shoe width of men and women measured was three width sizes larger than the standard Nike shoe.

As a result, the Air Native is wider with a larger toe box.

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.

The design features several "heritage call outs" as one product manager described it, including sunrise to sunset patterns on the tongue and heel of the shoe. Feather designs adorn the inside and stars on the solerepresent the night sky.

Jerry Bread, outreach co-ordinator for the Native American Studies program at University of Oklahoma, said the idea was "fantastic" and addressed a core issue for tribes, though he was skeptical that the feet of people from so many tribes could be so similar.

"It's an excellent gesture and I know it will get a lot of support from tribal people," Bread said. "We stand to profit from it in our physical health and well being."

'The reason I like it is that, even if there's not a big Native American market, it gives people the impression there is a constituency that deserves attention.' —John Dickson, Native American Leadership Alliance

Dr. Kelly Acton, director of the national diabetes program for Indian Health Services, said she was dubious of working with a corporation at first but said she was delighted with the result.