Date of Award
Dr. Mary Mitchell
Dr. Al Kennedy
Dr. Connie Atkinson
All over the world, Carnival is a time for a break in human activities, and inversion of the usual hierarchies. In New Orleans, Carnival is a time when the powerless take over the streets, and, for a time, invert control and ownership. One of the New Orleans carnival organizations are the Mardi Gras Indians, groups of African Americans who dress as Indians during the day and take over the streets of their neighborhoods, showing their power and beauty in a breathtaking display of costumes, music and dance. The Masking of the Mardi Gras Indian is a tradition dating back to at least the early nineteenth century. The Creole Wild West were the first named Indian tribe on record in 1884 but this does not mean they were the only or earliest tribe to mask. In the beginning some gangs would get together on Mardi Gras but did not mask under a proper name. The Mardi Gras Indian practice is a practice rooted in resistance to white oppression and African Americans’ demands for inclusion in the city’s Mardi Gras celebrations. The history of Mardi Gras Indians in New Orleans is not limited to the East Bank of the Mississippi River but is also includes residents on the West Bank, specifically in the neighborhood of Algiers. Within the Algiers neighborhood there are several different sections. Probably the most well known section, Algiers Point, consisted of mostly white residents. The Oakdale area, later known as the Fischer Housing Development, and the Cut-Off, an area that borders the bayous of Plaquemines Parish consisted of mostly African Americans. Although the origins of Indians masking on both sides of the River is a point of debate among scholars, some evidence suggests that Indians from Algiers masked as early as the early twentieth century. This thesis is an examination of the longest-running tribe in Algiers, the Mohawk Hunters who started out in the Oakdale area but currently most of their members now reside in the Cut-Off area. Using archival material as well as recently conducted oral histories, it explores the relationship between the Algiers Indian tradition and the more well-known groups on the East Bank. By their deep attachment to their neighborhood, despite its separation from the rest of New Orleans by the Mississippi River, they have helped to strengthen the Mardi Gras Indians’ neighborhood-bound traditions of community service and youth education. Not many people are privy to some of the information that was passed along to me through the oral interviews conducted but my personal connection to some the Mohawk Hunters, including my cousin Charles “Cubby” Dillon, possibly allowed me to gain a deeper look into the organization. I was able to use text messages for follow-up questions and this was access most interviewers may not have had. Although few residents on the East Bank know of their existence, they are a model of the community-engaged, twenty-first century Mardi Gras Indians.
Jackson, Monisha S., "A River Separates Them, A Culture Connects Them: The Mohawk Hunters of Algiers and the Mardi Gras Indian Tradition in New Orleans" (2017). University of New Orleans Theses and Dissertations. 2412.