New Orleans’ Black Masking Indian chiefs discuss art, community

By Jamie Saxon, Princeton Office of Communications, and Morgan Kelly, Princeton Environmental Institute

In a panel discussion held April 3 at Princeton University, two “big chiefs” of New Orleans’ Black Masking Indian groups explored the complex artistry and deep-seated community of the Black Masking tradition.

Chief Demond Melancon of the Young Seminole Hunters and Big Chief Darryl Montana of the Yellow Pocahontas Hunters are leaders of two of these groups, known popularly as Mardi Gras Indians. Referred to as “tribes,” the groups organize by neighborhood and perform during Mardi Gras (or Carnival) and other celebratory occasions wearing these intricately beaded and decorated suits. This process of creating elaborate ceremonial suits and aprons originated by African Americans almost 200 years ago to pay homage to American Indians and tell visual stories of hardship and redemption.

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