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Summer program focuses on culture, heritage

2nd July 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Kelly Parker
Contributing Writer

Parents in search of a specialty summer camp with a bit of cultural flavor; look no further than Xavier University’s Mardi Gras Indian Arts camp. Once again, the annual summer program is not only teaching design and technique, but the history of the city’s beloved Mardi Gras Indians as well.

The program, which launched in 2007, is open to children ages 11-14 and consists of two three-week sessions) and is $30 per session. The second session begins July 9 and runs through July 27.

Big Chief Darryl Montana demonstrates the art of beading of Mardi Gras Indian costumes for Kayla Tiffith and Bria Johnson.

“The camp is part of the community arts partnership with Xavier and some of the Mardi Gras Indians,” says Jessica Legaux, XU Art Teaching Assistant. “Basically, the objective is to teach children the sewing process and the history of the Mardi Gras Indians. It’s been great; the first session saw close to a dozen students, so we’re looking to get the word out and have more students for the next session. A good number to have for each session is around 20 students.”

Students learn the history of Mardi Gras Indian suit design (including the difference between the ‘uptown and ‘downtown design) from two of the masters: Yellow Pocahontas Chief Darryl Montana and Walter Landry, Chief of the Black Mohawks.

“I think it’s great for our kids to be a part of this culture,” says Legaux. “Traditionally, (interaction) with Mardi Gras Indians have been with friends and close family members, so to have that extended to other students is really a great experience for them to have—and to really understand it firsthand.”

Montana; who teaches the first session, is known in the community as the son of legendary Mardi Gras Indian Chief Allison “Tootie” Montana. He’s been sharing what he’s known all his life to area kids for nearly 15 years, working in various summer cultural programs.

‘I’ve taught just about everything you can teach our children; as it relates to the Mardi Gras Indians,” Montana says. “I’ve given it all to these kids.”

Legaux spoke of some of the projects completed by students of the first sessions; which included 3-dimensional beaded animals that were sewed onto a painted canvas. “Each year the projects are different-one year students decorated a Mardi Gras Indian boot, another project was a miniature Indian doll; we try to offer a variety of things to create.”

During the second session, Chief Walter Landry introduces the geographic design (which includes more flat beaded imagery)

“This design leans more to telling a story,” says the fourth-generation Mardi Gras Indian. “Chief Montana teaches what his dad started-that beautiful three-dimension design (with more of the Aztec Indian culture influence). The kids in the program are very fortunate, because they get the best of both worlds.”

Chief Montana has seen the work in the camp inspire students to experience the Mardi Gras Indian culture beyond the summer program. He has recruited a few of the youngsters and prepared them to mask on Mardi Gras day.

“It’s just something about working with the needle and thread and the feathers, and it just takes them to another place. I’ve seen discipline in some of these kids that adults don’t have.” Montana laughs.

Chief Landry believes this experience not only teaches area kids the craftsmanship, but how and why masking came to be.

“This is something the kids really need to know about,” he says.” This is a part of our culture. We need to embrace the customs and pay tribute to the Native Americans because they took us in and taught us their way of life.”

At the end of the program, students will invite family and friends to an exhibit, which showcases the work completed during this year’s sessions.

“I’ve grown up in this, and we (Mardi Gras Indians) normally didn’t share what we do,” Montana told The Louisiana Weekly. “But I realized when I became Chief that if we don’t pass it on to the younger generation, it will die.”

There’s still time to enroll kids in the second session of the program. For more information, call (504) 520-7556.

This article was originally published in the July 2, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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