Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program

Urban Studies


Planning and Urban Studies

Major Professor

Mary Mitchell

Second Advisor

David Gladstone

Third Advisor

Clyde Robertson

Fourth Advisor

D. Ryan Gray


New Orleans’ strategic location on the Mississippi River is a centuries-old hub for economic growth, cultural exchange, and has been a prize for competing political forces since colonial times. Its multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and multicultural complexities where Native Americans, Europeans, and Africans transcultural sociopolitical experiences around enslavement and co-habitation produced the New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians. The patriarchal Mardi Gras Indian tribes have been around for more than a hundred years and are known for creating extravagant handcrafted masquerading suits whose prominent features are feathers and beads and, through their traditions constitute a distinct cultural group. This research used oral histories supplemented by literature to explore Mardi Gras Indian history, origin theories, communal relations, class dimensions, and self-identity for understanding cultural transformation and leadership patterns while describing hierarchy, stability, and fluency within and among their tribes. Oral history narratives came from Big Chiefs, who are the paramount leaders and spokespersons for each tribe. The Big Chiefs gave descriptive interpretations that revealed societal structures, development, and sociopolitical dynamics.


The University of New Orleans and its agents retain the non-exclusive license to archive and make accessible this dissertation or thesis in whole or in part in all forms of media, now or hereafter known. The author retains all other ownership rights to the copyright of the thesis or dissertation.

Available for download on Thursday, June 22, 2028