PHOTOS: Black Masking Indians lead protest through the streets of Treme

Wearing all black instead of suits, members of the Black Hawk Hunters Mardi Gras Indians take part in a “Peaceful Demonstration for the Young Black Generation,” in the Treme / Lafitte neighborhoods and the 7th Ward in New Orleans Friday June 12, 2020.

by Matthew Hinton
June 14, 2020

Wearing all black instead of suits, members of the Black Hawk Hunters Mardi Gras Indians take part in a “Peaceful Demonstration for the Young Black Generation,” in the Treme / Lafitte neighborhoods and the 7th Ward in New Orleans Friday June 12, 2020. The Black Hawk Hunters represent the Young Indians of the Nation and are led by Big Chief Terrance “Tee” Williams, age 16.

In promoting the demonstration Williams said “I am the future. I am not a threat.” The group asked people to come out and support the youth and to wear masks to protect against COVID-19. They were joined by members of the Golden Blades, Bo Dollis, Jr. and the Wild Magnolias, Big Chief Dow Edwards, and 9th Ward Black Hatchet Wildman Chuck Walkanela. The rally ended at the NORDC Hunter’s Field at St. Bernard Ave. The New Orleans Recreation Department Commission location was run for many years by Jerome Smith, a Freedom Rider, who also helped start the first Super Sunday celebration for the Mardi Gras Indians.

Black Masking Mardi Gras Indians define a wide range of cultural influences. Some Indians claim Native American ancestry because many Africans that were forcefully brought to plantations in colonial times often escaped from their captors and formed communities with the indigenous Native Americans. Indian suits often depict stories with sewn beads of Native Americans battling the United States cavalry, cowboys, or conquistadors. Sewing beads into a whole suit can take a year or more. Others Indian gangs or tribes are more influenced by West African and Afro-Caribbean cultures and their suits can have shells, glass, and geometric patterns, while others have three-dimensional beaded animals or other sculptures protruding from the suit. Chief Becate Batiste, a Creole who was part Choctaw, French, and African-American, is said to have founded the first Mardi Gras Indian gang, the Creole Wild West, around 1880. Though the first written account of Indians comes from the memoir of Elise Kirsch who recalled seeing 60 Indians on Mardi Gras in 1883. Others speculate that Mardi Gras Indians appeared after a performance in New Orleans of the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show in 1884. Members of the tribe can include the Spy Boy, Flag Boy, Gang Flag, Moss Man, Wild Man, Big Queen, Princess, Council Chief, Second Chief, and Big Chief.

Matthew Hinton is a New Orleans area freelance photographer whose work has been recognized by the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) Best of Photojournalism Awards in 2014 and 2016, and by numerous awards from the Press Club of New Orleans, including the Hal Ledet President's Print Photography Award, the highest honor the Press Club can bestow upon a photographer. Matthew Hinton has previously been a staff photographer at both of the daily newspapers in New Orleans. His work has appeared nationally and internationally through freelance work with the Associated Press and AFP, Agence France-Presse.

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