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Mardi Gras Indians in all their finery Super Sunday

11th March 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

On Sunday, March 17, the Mardi Gras Indian Council presents its Indian Super Sunday Festival, a much-anticipated event for both the public and the Black Indians participating in the parade.
“What I like about the parade is seeing the people enjoying what’s going on,” says Big Chief Howard Miller of the Creole Wild West gang and the council’s president since 2007. “It’s a chance for me to see some people I didn’t see at Mardi Gras. You get to see the craftsmen’s styles from different areas – everybody has their own flavor and flair.”

The full day of activities at A.L. Davis Park, located on the corner of Washington Avenue and LaSalle Street, begins at 11 a.m. with music by the likes of DJ Captain Charles and DJ Jubilee, pianist Marcel Richardson, rhythm and blues purveyors BRW, gospel vocalist Jo “Cool” Davis and pianist Cornell Chambers. The Indians who gather at the park often display their suits and ring tambourines in preparation for the parade that leaves at 1 p.m. It heads down LaSalle, turns left on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, left on South Claiborne Avenue, left on Washington Avenue and ends at the park. Mardi Gras Indians from all over the city participate in the incredibly colorful procession that also includes the Hot 8 and TBC brass bands, members of the Young Men Olympian Benevolent Society and the Lady Buckjumpers Social Aid & Pleasure Club.

Formally, the Mardi Gras Indian Council has presented the parade since the organization was chartered in 1985 though there were, according to the council’s director Bertrand Butler, processions held uptown since the early 1980s. The Tambourine & Fan Social Aid & Pleasure Club, headed by Jerome Smith, put on Super Sunday parades that most notably in more recent years were held downtown, starting at Bayou St. John. It is told that the first Super Sunday parade started from uptown and traveled downtown.

Butler and Chief Miller make it clear that though there is a perception that the Mardi Gras Indian Council is primarily an uptown organization, the estimated 20 to 25 tribes that are members actually come from all over the city. “The Comanche Hunters are from the 9th Ward, Fi-Yi-Yi is from the 7th Ward, the Golden Star Hunters are from Gert Town and the Mohawk Hunters are from across the river,” Chief Miller points out.

“Besides the parade, the council tries to bring unity to the culture for its longevity,” Butler explains. “We have practices and sewing classes every Saturday at A.L. Davis park and we want to expand that to every neighborhood – and schools – throughout the city so children have the opportunity to find out what the culture is about.”

Big Chief Miller, who began masking Indian in 1969, echos that sentiment saying, “We want to see what’s going on (in the Indian culture) and how we can make it better than it is and bring it to the next level.”

Miller has seen many changes in the Indian tradition since starting out as a chief scout with the Apache Hunters. “Back in the day, that’s what you had to be, a chief scout,” he explains of newcomers entering the tradition. “Then I came to be a spyboy.”

In 1974, he acted as spyboy for the Creole Wild West but was urged into taking the position as Chief of the Apache Hunters in an effort to get the gang back on the street. “I didn’t want to be chief. I wanted to be a spyboy – that’s all I ever wanted,” says Miller who reluctantly agreed to be chief.

In 1979 he merged the Apache Hunters with the Creole Wild West whose chief is and was Little Walter Cook. Nonetheless, Miller retained his title as Big Chief. “Nobody ever looked at me as being a second chief,” he says. “They always looked at me as chief. We may be the only gang that has two people who are looked at like that. Who is chief is almost like a mystery in the Creole Wild West. “We {he and Cook} run together – hand-in-hand – that’s how we run.”

The Creole Wild West is the oldest Mardi Gras Indian gang and Chief Miller proudly talks of its glorious history and chiefs like the noted Brother Tillman, who was born in 1899. “Whether people like to face it or not, this is where it all started from,” says Miller mentioning early tribes that followed in the tradition like the Wild Squatoolas, the Red, White and Blue, the Yellow Pocahontas and the 8th Ward Hunters.

While the startling beauty of the Mardi Gras Indians parading in their intricately beaded suits with feathers blowing in the breeze and sequences and gems shining in the sun on Indian Super Sunday is spectacular, Big Chief Howard Miller finds special significance in the songs and rhythms that are part of – and tell the story of – the Indian heritage.

“When I’m singing, that is the greater spiritual part of the culture that comes out of me,” he says with deep sincerity. “I know the Mardi Gras Indians’ sole purpose is – or it was at one time and should now be – to uplift the people with spiritual joy.”

Gospel Extravaganza – A Spiritual Saturday
The Mardi Gras Indian Council presents a new event, a Gospel Extravaganza, on Saturday, March 16, 2013, as a prelude of sorts to the Indian Super Sunday Festival. From noon until 7 p.m., A.L. Davis Park will soar with the rejoicing of New Orleans gospel choirs. Included are the ensembles from the New Zion Baptist Church, the Second Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, the My Redeemer Missionary Baptist Church, the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, the New Home Ministries Baptist Church, the Israelites Baptist Church and others. A pastor will be on hand to bless Sunday’s parade and give thanks to and appreciation for those who came before.

This article originally published in the March 11, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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