Wild Opelousas of Martin Behrman Charter School created their first Mardi Gras Indian suits in 2016. Students are able to take a class to about this important New Orleans cultural tradition and share in making the suits, under the guidance of Teacher Liz Arias and members of the Indian community. The tribe presents their new suits to classmates, teachers, and family, with a parade around the school the Thursday before Mardi Gras. They will be making their second public appearance by invitation of the Mohawk Hunters during West Fest (West Bank Super Sunday) on April 22, 2018.
Tribe members are elected by their classmates and move up the ranks based on leadership qualities and appreciation for the culture. Big Queen Regine Roberts took over the role from her older sister, with great enthusiasm from her family as she continued her sister’s legacy. Big Chief Tycen Grant moved up from the title of Wild Man, and has found the experience to be a confidence booster that keeps him busy and engaged. Grant’s mother Takisha Wright and his sisters helped with sewing over the months, and have found new understand of the culture and catharsis in the process of sewing.
Teacher Liz Arias has contracts with the students in the tribe mandating weekly after school Indian practices and requirements for academic achievement in order to participate. She hopes to give them a sense of accomplishment, deeper understanding of the tradition, and a sense of community around their tribe. Students in the class learn about Mardi Gras Indians from Mardi Gras Indians, with a full curriculum Arias designed under the guidance of Mohawk Hunter Jamal Casby and others in the community. They also enjoy coaching and guidance from Indians throughout the year.
The Big Chief, Big Queen, Little Queen Cass and the rest of the tribe have discovered that the process of sewing has helped their concentration and conviction in life. Taking on the Indian spirit taught the Big Queen about letting go of negativity when she takes on the responsibility of masking in this tradition. Each member feels a solemn responsibility to represent the culture, while they continue learning from each time they put the feathers on or work the needle and thread.
This series follows the making of their 2018 suits leading up to Thursday before Mardi Gras on February 8, 2018. Their second public appearance will be the this Sunday with the Mohawk Hunters during West Fest or West Bank Super Sunday on April 22, 2018.
by Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee