Mardi Gras Indians
The movie, We Won’t Bow Down, was shot over eight years by first time director Christopher Leroy Bower. A native of Ashville, North Carolina, Bower began conducting interviews right after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in September 2005. He learned about Mardi Gras Indian culture from Steve Mann, who co-produced and photographed We Won’t Bow Down.
Bower first saw Mardi Gras Indians on the first St Joseph’s Day after Katrina and was very impressed with the beauty, resilience and power of this New Orleans-only Carnival tradition. He ran into the Spirit of Fi-Yi-Yi and Victor Harris, who was singing Calling All My People, a prayer. He found it a chilling experience which he couldn’t forget.
He wanted the Indians to tell their own story without any narration or Indian ‘experts’ to dilute their message.
I work with some Mardi Gras indians and have recently put together Indian funk bands in New Orleans such as the Spy Boy All-Stars featuring June Victory and June Squared with June Yamagishi.They have played the Maple Leaf Bar, Tipitina’s, and Chickie Wah Wah among other major Crescent City venues. I too find the Indian culture very unique and beautiful. I’ve written some Indians up on my Mardi Gras Music Series, here’s a couple of links for the Wild Magnolias and June Victory and the Bayou Renegades, appearing next Thursday from 6 to 8 pm at the Ogden Museum, 925 Camp Street as part of their Ogden After Hours Music series.
Around the nation, audiences have been enthralled by the documentary. The crowd was enthusiastic at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, where the movie had its world premiere. We took some of the guys from the Ninth Ward Hunters and the Comanche Hunters to perform in Los Angeles, Bower said. They did a procession through the Crenshaw Mall, and to just release that on people randomly and to see the response, that was amazing. People were coming from the parking garage, the balconies, little kids were dancing. There was a connection that defies intellectual understanding. It was just in the spirit of what was happening.
Actor, producer and community activist Wendell Pierce saw the doc in Los Angeles and is now a major proponent of the film. His Pontchartrain Park Neighborhood Association is involved in the April 12 New Orleans premiere at the National WWII Museum.
We Won’t Be Bowed Down
National WWII Museum
Solomon Victory Theatre
Red Carpet Screening 7:15 pm
General Screening 9:15 pm
The Mohawk Hunters from Algiers came to Orleans Parish Prison to show inmates how to sew patches for Mardi Gras Indian outfits. It is rare for a story for one of my two blogs to be appropriate for the other, but that is the case here. For me at least, that is cause for a small celebration.
Central to this story is the Alternative Learning Institute (ALI) and Tyrone Casby, principal of ALI and Big Chief of the Mohawk Hunters. The project is the Mohawk Hunters Cultural Journey and they brought a message of transformation from violence to pride. In the past, a culture of violence permeated the Mardi Gras Indian culture. Over time, feelings of pride in their sewing efforts and attaining proficiency in their craft replaced the violence.
Roughly 42 inmates took part in the program. Each participant worked and completed their own patch. The address I found on Google maps for 3000 Perdido St., New Orleans, LA 70119 is Orleans Parish Prison and that’s the address for ALI.
The Mohawk Hunters Mardi Gras Indians at Algiers RiverFest.
Sheriff Marlin Gusman praised the work of Casby and the Orleans Parish School Board for its funding of the Alternative Learning Institute and the many people necessary to provide the courses and other programs to inmates who choose to sign up.
This was a Mardi Gras to remember. The police strike (NOPD) cancelled the parades in Orleans Parish, but Jefferson and St. Bernard Parishes held all their parades. Much of organized Carnival was canceled in New Orleans, but all of the less organized groups came out as usual.
On Fat Tuesday morning we went to the west bank for Grela and the trucks, then headed back over the Mississippi River bridge to find the Wild Tchoupitoulas Indians. We found them, with Chief Jolly, Charles Neville on sax, and Aaron Neville smoking a joint with our little group! We really enjoyed our time with 2nd Chief Norman Bell, Chief Jolly (George Landry), Aaron and Charles Neville, and other Indians and musicians.
We were living on Robert Street off of Danneel St, so we were very close to where the Nevilles all lived back then, on Valence Street. This was right before the Nevilles became major label fodder and began to travel the world in earnest as the pride of New Orleans, the Neville Brothers.
We hung out and followed the Wild Tchoupitoulas for a couple of hours before heading the the French Quarter and a party on Royal Street. These uptown Mardi Gras Indians were followed by a crowd of about 20 people. It was really an enjoyable aspect of Fat Tuesday that year.
Since that time, we’ve gotten into a bit of a fun rut on Fat Tuesday. We set up on St. Charles for Rex and the Trucks, and catch some of Zulu on Jackson Avenue before. There is so much to do and see at the New Orleans Carnival you can hardly go wrong, as long as you travel in a small group for safety reasons. We always bring a number of really excellent foods and drinks for Fat Tuesday. We BBQ, bring hot gumbos, sushi, traditional desserts like king cakes, mandel brot, decadent chocolate cakes, chocolate babka, etc. Not all of that each year, but I always make a half dozen Po-boys in advance for guests and friends who show up during the number of hours we’re on St. Charles enjoying the parades and trucks.
We always bring a king cake, that’s positively necessary.
After a wild final weekend, the big day is here!! Get out there and enjoy the zillion events, the weather is perfect.
I know a lot of folks who avoid Zulu, Rex and the trucks. It seems to me that Krewe of St. Anne in the Marigny is more popular than ever. My friends are flocking to the informal costume oriented event.
Others hang with the historic Mardi Gras Indians, from downtown to uptown. I remember the year of the police strike – I spent some time with the Wild Tchoupitoulas when Chief Jolly, Norman Bell, and the Neville Brothers were in the group. I remember sharing a joint with Aaron Neville that day. It was really enjoyable.
The Back Street Museum is a popular destination on Mardi Gras Day.
I’ve always been a parade person, but I may, someday soon, join one of the many walking parades and experience Mardi Gras Day this way. Time will only tell.
Once again, Happy Mardi to all- however you experience it- have a ball!! I hope to see YOU at the Mardi Gras!!
This is the first story I can place on both my blogs! That’s great and weird. I’ve got the Mardi Gras Indians angle for this blog, and the NOPD for my watchopp blog, or Watch Orleans Parish Prison. Never thought this would happen, and I never thought of this happening ever. So from my point of view, I’m killing two birds with one stone, sweet!!
It occurred at the meeting of the City Council’s Governmental Affairs Committee a couple of days ago. The audience had Indian Chiefs and their allies, every NOPD district commander, and James Carter, the mayor’s Criminal Justice Commissioner.
NOPD 1st District Commander Bobby Norton said the task is to get every officer to understand the Indian tradition.
I’m very hopeful that an agreement will be reaching, opening a new era for both the Mardi Gras Indians and NOPD. I’m overjoyed this meeting broke new ground, an is moving toward a very historic agreement. Good luck to all parties, and Happy Happy Mardi Gras to all!! Here’s the 1980s version of an Indian group, June Victory and the Bayou Renegades-
After years of harassing the Mardi Gras Indians with police cruisers, their sirens, and lights. Many years arrests occurred as well. The police have enforced a phony curfew on this historic New Orleans tradition, stopping all Indian activity after 6 pm.
Police have further encumbered the Indians by suggesting Indian gangs get parade permits. Councilwoman Susan Guidry stated this was going to end. Jerome Scott, founder of the Tambourine and Fan youth organization, who teaches youngsters about the Indian traditions and New Orleans culture, said the harassment takes the beauty out of it.
“You cannot police a bird,” said Smith.