In March ’06, when we took the first load of machines to New Orleans, a woman walked through the door, asking if she could take multiple machines for the Mardi Gras Indian community. This remarkable woman, Becky, would soon become my connection to other remarkable women. She explained how sewing was an integral part of the Mardi Gras tradition and how they’d lost everything in Katrina and needed so much. Machines would be shared within the community. So we sent machines.
The following day Becky introduced us to Joyce Montana, the widow of Tootie Montana, legendary chief of the Yellow Pocahontas and Chief of Chiefs. Joyce kindly invited us into her home to see some of the incredible suits that Tootie had worn over the years–an absolutely stunning collection. We felt so welcome and so honored to have such a personal tour AND introduction to the traditions of the Mardi Gras.
That same day, Becky introduced us to Antoinette K-Doe, widow of the late R&B star, Ernie K-Doe. We visited with Antoinette at the Mother In Law Lounge on North Claiborne St., as she directed workmen who were restoring the bar post-Katrina. The water had risen almost up to the ceiling of the lounge but she’d saved many of the treasures within.
Since that visit, Becky has introduced me to Cherice Harrison-Nelson and her mother, Herreast Harrison. Herreast’s late husband, Donald Harrison was the Big Chief of the Guardians of the Flame and his daughter, Cherice, called Queen Reesie, is a Queen of that tribe today.
Through all of these amazing women I’ve learned more and more, not only about the traditions of the Mardi Gras culture but also about the role the Mardi Gras play in preserving African American culture as well. Herreast and Cherice explained about how being raised in the Mardi Gras Indian tradition is more than just contstructing suits and participating in celebrations. It’s about preserving pride in their heritage and giving children a role and responsibility in today’s society.
On so many levels the Mardi Gras are deserving of respect. I feel honored to have the opportunity to work with all of these incredible women and to have the opportunity to get a glimpse inside of this fascinating culture.