NARRATOR: So, what was your first Mardi Gras experience?
NATASHA DEL TORO: The Mardi Gras tribes display their pride through elaborate costumes and dances.
NARRATOR: New Orleans is a place where years of cultural diversity have combined into a kaleidoscope of people.
DEL TORO: But amidst the feathers, beads, and beats, now there are questions of survival.
MELISSA WEBER: COVID-19 in many ways is even more detrimental than Hurricane Katrina.
DEL TORO: "Big Chief, Black Hawk," on America ReFramed.
♪ ♪ CROWD: Four, three, two, one!
BOY: Come on!
(crowd cheers) ♪ ♪ NARRATOR: What was your first Mardi Gras experience?
♪ ♪ In New Orleans, there are two.
The one you see and the one you experience.
And when you experience our Mardi Gras, you know exactly what it is.
Ancestors congregating in the present through chants and dance, passing on words and movements that are as old as time itself.
♪ ♪ Although some may think they know what they are seeing, most don't.
This, what you were seeing, can only be experienced.
CHILD: ♪ I sewed all night long ♪ WOMAN: ♪ Somebody gotta sew, sew, sew ♪ CHILD: ♪ I sew early morning till the break of dawn ♪ WOMAN: ♪ Somebody gotta sew, sew, sew ♪ CHILD: ♪ Hooray!
What they say?
♪ WOMAN: ♪ Somebody gotta sew, sew, sew ♪ CHILD: ♪ Early that morning gonna kill 'em dead ♪ WOMAN: ♪ Somebody gotta sew, sew, sew ♪ CHILD: Uhhhh...
BOTH: ♪ I'm a little bitty boy with a feather in my head ♪ CHILD: ♪ Somebody gotta sew, sew, sew ♪ BOTH: ♪ Say early that morning, that's what I said ♪ CHILD: ♪ Somebody gotta sew, sew, sew ♪ BOTH: ♪ Hooray on the battlefield ♪ (child laughing) CHILD: ♪ Somebody gotta sew, sew, sew ♪ BOTH: ♪ Say Mardi Gras morning, I'm dressed to kill ♪ CHILD: ♪ Somebody gotta sew, sew, sew ♪ BOTH: ♪ I'm a little bitty boy from way downtown ♪ CHILD: ♪ Somebody gotta sew, sew, sew ♪ (song fades) NARRATOR: So, what was your first Mardi Gras experience?
BRIA JOSEPH: So my oldest memory of culture in New Orleans would be Mardi Gras 2007.
I was actually on Louisiana, kind of just watching everybody that came by speaking, seeing people that they hadn't seen in a while.
And that's when I saw my uncle and my cousins coming down the street.
And at that point, they came up and I knew that's when I wanted to mask.
That was the point where I really got introduced to the culture and to really what New Orleans was.
DOW EDWARDS: Well, I got into masking because I was fascinated with the Indians when I met them on Mardi Gras back in the 1970s, early '70s.
I was a young boy, and we went out to see the Indians with my parents.
And watching them out there that day was, created a fantasy in my mind that I wanted to participate in.
However, I never started masking until I was well in, late in age, 'cause I never knew anybody to ask to mask with them.
Right after Hurricane Katrina, I went to Big Chief Casby and saw that there was a potential for the gentrification of our culture and people coming into New Orleans and changing the dynamics of the city.
And I thought that being a lawyer, I can lend a voice to the culture to be able to help it sustain itself in the city of New Orleans.
And so I started sewing and started speaking out against some of the issues that was coming into New Orleans, that was the police brutality of the Indians, and also with the potential changing of the landscape of the cultural identity of New Orleans.
And started speaking out against that, and that's how I started, first started masking Indian.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: Down here, we refer to this as "the culture."
That includes second lines, brass bands, and anything that honors the past while moving on into the future.
As Wendell Pierce has said, "Culture is the intersection between life and death and how you deal with it."
♪ ♪ TERRANCE: My name is Terrance Williams, Jr., and I'm the Big Chief of the Black Hawk Hunters masking Indian tribe.
When I was in eighth grade, I was researching.
I came across Chief Black Hawk, and I read about how he was a fearless leader and did anything to make his, make sure that his tribe was okay and safe, and make sure everybody was happy.
And it just happened to be, like, some of the qualities that people seem to associate with me.
I was, like, "Oh, I'm gonna name my tribe that, after him."
MAN: How did you get into masking?
- Well, first off, my big cousin Eric Smith was masking with a tribe, and my mom was looking for ways to help my brother Tyrell, who is the gang flag of my tribe, cope with his ADHD.
TYRELL: Masking has helped me by teaching me perseverance, patience, because I got to sit there and sew the stuff in order to make it.
And when I used to get frustrated, I used to know that I could come to the table, sit down, and sew.
Because, like, the one, two, three, you know what I'm sayin', counting sheeps, all that didn't really help me, but the one thing that really did was sitting down at the table sewing.
TEE: Tyrell was first diagnosed with AD, ADHD when he was six years old.
So I know, like, it's, you know, some people feel like there's no such thing as ADHD, and it's just a myth, and some people feel that it's just something that they want to diagnose Black kids with.
But, actually, ADHD is real, it's a real thing.
Some people will call it ADHD.
Some people just say, "Oh, this child is bad."
And so I feel like it helps him because, you know, he use it as a coping strategy.
Like, he's able to sew...
It's like meditation, because even with ADHD, they try to give you different ways to cope.
When he would go sit down and sew, it helped.
And don't get me wrong, it was, it's not always peaches and cream.
He would get frustrated, but he wanted it so bad, and it was something that he looked forward to, he persevered through whatever obstacles that came to when it came down to sewing and putting his suit together.
TERRANCE: So, that first year, he masked.
They asked me if I wanted to mask, but I was seven, and a little bit immature.
I was, like, "Nah, I'm not wearing pink.
"I'm not wearing all those feathers.
I'm not wearing all that long hair."
I didn't want to do that.
So I was, like, "I'll just sit on the side and I'll watch."
But that year, I also learned how to sew, as well, to help out with him.
So that year, I was playing the tambourine behind the chief, watching everything.
Without the suit on, of course, you see everything differently.
You see how the flags meet, the spies meet, how the chiefs meet, how the wilds meet.
So after sitting out that year and watching everything, I was, like, "All right, I'm going to give it a try."
So, my first year, I came out as a spy boy, and I sewed my own suit by myself.
So after that first year, I was, like, "Oh, this is nice, I'm gonna keep doing it.
"And I'mma actually look into the reasoning of why I'm doing it, as well."
♪ ♪ WOMAN: Get him, Bob!
(people talking in background) JEFFERY DARENSBOURG: I think one thing that all people should appreciate is how annoyed and disgusted Native people get when anyone dresses like us for any reason, period, ever.
Now, motivations for that are definitely very person-to-person, as motivations to doing anything.
But, in general, Native people are utterly disgusted when anyone ever dresses like us.
And that's because there's such a history of mockery in dressing like us, such a history of White portrayals of us.
Um, I think with Mardi Gras Indians, many of them are in fact of Indigenous ancestry.
And if that is a way of expressing the person's Indigenous ancestry, I think that's a different interpretation from, say, a White person dressing up in Native clothing.
Also, the outfits have a Native element, but they're also obviously influenced by African clothing in a way that's not just Native clothing.
I think another interesting thing is that-- and I think this is a point of contact-- is that many Mardi Gras Indians, every time there is some sort of Indigenous activism, whether it be Standing Rock protests, either at Standing Rock in North Dakota or, or similar protests here, Mardi Gras Indians always join in solidarity with what we might traditionally identify as Indigenous people.
And that's a big point of contact.
Every time I've ever talked with, uh, Mardi Gras Indians, they are very supportive of learning about Indigenous culture and supportive of Indigenous causes.
I think many Indigenous people who want to understand Mardi Gras Indians should maybe talk with them and vice versa.
I don't think that, of Mardi Gras Indians as, uh, adversaries of Indigenous people-- definitely strong allies and also people of Indigenous ancestry.
And I think that's a beautiful thing.
EDWARDS: Masking Indian in the, as we do it in New Orleans, is an African culture.
It's, it has its roots in Africa, and it was carried on in New Orleans because of the Black Code, or Code Noir, which was the French law at the time.
And the French law required the slave masters to give their slaves freedom on Sundays to practice whatever cultural identity, whatever things that they wanted.
And they, and the slaves would assemble at a place that, later to be called Congo Square.
And at that Congo Square, the cultural exchange of all the Africans who were slaves was allowed to manifest itself there.
And that was the origins of the Mardi Gras Indian.
Paying homage is an ancient African tradition of paying homage to something or someone who has aided you in your way of life in a particular period of time.
And so when you hear people say, "We pay homage to the Native Americans in the Black masking culture," what we're actually doing is expressing our appreciation for some of their help in allowing us to run away to their camps in those, in those places.
I think they both are represented well in the culture.
Our drums, for instance.
The drums is actually part of African culture.
If you look at our beadwork, the beading style is actually African.
But the portraits that we portray on the suit is more of a Native Plain Indian.
Well, traditionally rather.
You know, nowadays, you know, we represent other things, as well.
You know, some people may represent something that's significant in their life or just a particular time of the world that we're going through.
They might want to represent that.
So you tell your story through your suit.
So, but the way we started telling that story is actually a mixture of African and Native American, so I guess you could say it's equally yoked, actually.
I think any points of confusion, though, require conversations, and they require conversations with Indigenous people where Indigenous people feel free to voice their concerns, and vice versa.
Many Indigenous people consider it offensive.
And when it comes to whether or not something should be offensive to Indigenous people, only the opinions of Indigenous people matter.
No one else's opinion matters whatsoever regarding what Indigenous people should find offensive.
However, I think fewer Indigenous people would be less offended by Mardi Gras Indians if they knew more about the back story, if they knew more about the Indigenous ancestry of those individuals, and if they knew more about the history between African and Indigenous peoples in this city, which is a deeply intertwined, interwoven history that cannot be separated.
EDWARDS: In our culture, we find those who have aided us along our way, and we do something to celebrate them in our masking.
And Big Chief Robbe wrote in his book that the imagery of the Native Americans that we see on our suits came about back in the early 1900s, because that was the images they started to see in the coloring books of Indians.
So they got those images and put on their suits as a way to pay homage to the Indians who, the Native Americans who actually helped them along the way to freedom for some of their ancestors.
DARENSBOURG: My tribal nation, we're probably originally from Mexico, or at least we have many loanwords from that area in our traditional language, Ishakkoy.
The first-ever French depiction of Indigenous people in the city, Alexandre de Batz's painting from 1735, has a member of our tribe visiting.
So we do have a long history of trade and diplomacy with this area and very long history of relationships with the area nations.
As far as our relationship to New Orleans, something I will often talk about is that New Orleans does not exist.
There is a place called Bulbancha, though, where we are sitting right now, and in Bulbancha, we have a long history of it.
As far as our relationships with African Americans, our tribe has traditionally been very willing to incorporate people of African ancestry into our tribe or to intermarry with them.
I am of Indigenous and African ancestry and European ancestry.
I see no contradiction in that.
That might be different slightly ethnically than my Ishak ancestors, but they called themselves Ishak because their ancestors did, and so do I.
There's no shame to be Indigenous and African, there's no contradiction.
Black is beautiful.
(speaking Ishakkoy), as we say in our language-- Black Lives Matter.
And we have a long history of intermarriage that forms the basis of the Creole population in Louisiana.
Almost all Creole people are of mixed Indigenous, European, and African origin.
Also, the vast majority, I'm sure, of Indigenous-identified people in Louisiana have some African ancestry, whether they are proud of that or not.
I'm very proud of it.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: Before the ripples of the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold at the beginning of 2020, Mardi Gras happened.
It would be the last time we would be able to embrace one another as a community, and the last time in 2020 that the Mardi Gras Indians would be able to display their culture to their community.
Even though time has passed and technology has progressed, the ways of our ancestors are still practiced from year to year.
No matter what changes around the culture, the practices stay the same: sewing.
Every year, Mardi Gras Indians sew their own suit by hand, and every year, they incorporate something that matters to them on a spiritual level.
This could be a civil rights legend who helped to bring awareness to the plight of the ongoing struggle of being Black in America, like MLK.
Or someone who represents them on a personal and spiritual level, like Haile Selassie.
Or sewing could be a dedication to the most important person in all our lives, someone who nurtured us to become the person we are, the person who was always there to cheer for us when we're right and scold us when we're wrong, our mamas.
♪ ♪ - They're not gonna see that.
- They're not gonna see that.
(people talking in background) (object clangs loudly) (people talking in background) - You done?
(people talking in background) - Where's Fatman?
Fatman, Fatman, come here.
Tyrell, come here.
No, yo, no, I've gotta talk to y'all.
Both of y'all come here.
(people talking in background) Fatman, come here.
Look, I'm proud of you, Fatman.
FATMAN: Thank you.
TERRANCE: You're pretty.
TYRELL: Yeah, I know.
TERRANCE: Look... (Fatman laughs) Look, listen.
TYRELL: Can I say something?
Can I just say something?
TERRANCE: I'm extremely proud of y'all, all right?
Fatman, you coming out, are the first spy for the first time.
You got this, okay?
Just like you practiced.
You got it.
What are you?
- I'm the spy boy.
- What spy boy?
Pretty spy boy.
- Pretty spy boy.
- Tyrell... You do your job, all right?
I love y'all.
I love both of y'all, all right?
(Tyrell mumbling) TERRANCE: All right, for Indian Red, Fatman, when I call you out, when you're almost done, you want to go to Mommy, give her a hug, and tell her how much you're thankful for her, okay?
- 'Cause it's, it's... - Say her what?
- That you're thankful for her, okay?
- Say that I love you.
(woman speaking indistinctly) TERRANCE: All right?
(person sneezes loudly) Remember, when we do Indian Red, you go to Mama and tell her how much you love her.
Because your suit is for her, all right?
Your suit is dedicated to her.
Same for you, all right?
FATMAN: And you?
- And you?
- Yeah, me, of course.
♪ ♪ (woman asking question) Hm?
(woman repeats question) Mm-hmm.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ TERRANCE: ♪ Because I love to hear them call ♪ ♪ My Indian Red ♪ (drum and tambourine beating) ♪ Take a look at a Wild Man ♪ ♪ Wild Man ♪ ♪ He's the Wild Man of a nation ♪ ♪ The whole wide ♪ INDIANS: ♪ Creation ♪ TERRANCE: ♪ And he won't bow down ♪ INDIANS: ♪ No, he won't bow down ♪ TERRANCE: ♪ Down on that ground ♪ ♪ Because I love to hear them call ♪ INDIANS: ♪ My Indian Red ♪ TERRANCE: ♪ Red ♪ ♪ Take a look at a Gang Flag ♪ ♪ Gang Flag ♪ ♪ Gang Flag of a nation ♪ ♪ The whole wide ♪ INDIANS: ♪ Creation ♪ TERRANCE: ♪ And he won't bow down ♪ INDIANS: ♪ No, he won't bow down ♪ TERRANCE: ♪ Down on that ground ♪ ♪ Because I love to hear them call my Indian Red ♪ (reciting Indian Red prayer) (Indians singing indistinctly) ♪ Say, I'm a pretty Big Chief from way Downtown ♪ ♪ Stomp a hole in the ground ♪ (Indians singing indistinctly) ♪ And I'm gonna take my gang and bring 'em Uptown ♪ (Indians singing indistinctly) ♪ Say I am the ♪ INDIANS: ♪ Big Chief ♪ (Terrance shouting) (drum beating, crowd shouting) INDIANS: ♪ Big Chief ♪ ♪ Big Chief of the nation ♪ (Terrance shouting) ♪ The whole wide creation ♪ (drum beating, crowd shouting) TERRANCE: Ma, you're the reason why we did this.
(crying): I love you.
I love you, Ma.
(drum continues) You're the reason for all this.
This is why we dedicate our suits to you.
You're the reason why we do everything.
You help us, you push us through everything, you show up to everything.
You make the impossible possible, Ma.
I love you.
(crowd cheering) WOMAN: Oh, wow, wow, wow, wow.
(tambourine shaking) ♪ ♪ DARENSBOURG: Indigenous and African people here have often lived in the same neighborhoods.
Very often the case in Louisiana that the oldest free neighborhood of African Americans in a city is also based on the Native village.
That's true in Lafayette, Louisiana.
That's true of the Tremé here in our city.
That's true of many other neighborhoods in, around Louisiana.
African and Native American people are heavily intermarried.
What I think sometimes happens is that Native aspects of people get erased when they're intermarried with African people.
And that's because in our society, unfortunately, through racist ideals, people see African blood as a contaminant, such that if you have African ancestry, you're no longer Native American.
But many prominent people who are African American are also Native American, and people sometimes forget that.
People such as Jimi Hendrix, people such as Mildred Loving, people such as Crispus Attucks.
The first casualty of the American Revolutionary War had one African American parent and one Native American parent.
He's no more African American than he was Native American.
But you really never really see people very often talking about his Native American ancestry.
♪ ♪ BOUDREAUX: Growing up, like I said, let's say 30 years ago, when I was young, very, very young-- 'cause I ain't that old, yo-- but... (laughs) Um, like, the city embraced all culture.
And nowadays, you can see that changing.
Just, I'll give you, for instance, the Mardi Gras Indian culture.
At one point, the entire neighborhood would back the culture.
What, whatever it, it was, just to follow that tribe, follow that chief, represent that chief, 'cause each chief represent each neighborhood, so the neighborhood represent that chief right back.
And nowadays, like I said, that neighborhood is not there no more.
The chief is there, but the neighborhood is gone.
So... Now you don't have the same, you know, camaraderie, you don't have the same representation, so the feel is different.
ALLISON PLYER: Before Katrina, the city was 67% African American.
It's now 59% African American.
And although the Black population has rebounded every year since 2006, as the city has recovered, in the last two years, we've seen a net decrease in the total number of Black folks living in the city by about 1,500.
CHARITY CLAY: I think the first thing that we need to shift when we talk about gentrification is that it's not a residential phenomenon.
In the research I do, I look at gentrification as a project of systemic racial oppression.
But every Black community doesn't get gentrified.
It's generally a multi-generational process that begins with divestment in Black communities, right?
First of all, we have to understand that the majority of Black neighborhoods are strategically situated in the, in areas that have the worst conditions.
The divestment over time is to ultimately push Black people out of the city centers, right?
Because a lot of the communities we're located in are done for work purposes.
You know, you're close to downtown, you're close to the lake, or you're close to whatever corporate hub had you working.
When the work disappears, now corporations, with the help of the government, want to remove the people.
And when I say every Black community doesn't get gentrified, only the Black communities that are close to something of value, whether it be a sports stadium, whether it be something like the French Quarter, whether it be a lake or something popular or attractive, you know?
And, um, that's what kind of determines whether or not corporate interests seize the opportunity for profit by essentially eliminating Black people from a space.
The issue is, that space has value because of the Black people and the culture they bring to it.
Some of what we see happening in terms of gentrification is actually because of people who don't live in New Orleans who are buying second properties in the city.
Our, our architecture is so attractive, and it's so relatively inexpensive compared to San Francisco or New York, that to buy a $250,000 historic home looks like a great, um, second property for wealthier individuals from other parts of the country, and that is pushing folks out of New Orleans neighborhoods.
So, it's interesting that the attraction to New Orleans itself is creating some of the problems in terms of displacing the culture.
CLAY: One of the things-- I've studied gentrification in Chicago, in Oakland, and now I'm starting to get into it in New Orleans-- and the thing about the beast of gentrification is that it's adaptable.
It operates different in every city because Black people in each of those cities have different residential, commercial, labor, and cultural impacts.
What I noticed about New Orleans, though, is, Black home ownership is, is high compared to anywhere else I've been.
So the way gentrification has to operate to remove people from homes they own is a little bit different-- it's a little bit more complex.
The long story short is, you have... You know, gentrification, it upsets Black communities because it eliminates... One, it eliminates the culture of the community, and it removes the people from the community, all for profit, right?
It, it profits on the allure of Black culture while simultaneously removing the people that produce and create the culture.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: Our culture here has been and still is being made from being oppressed, and has always been monetized from those outside of the city and outside of the culture.
♪ ♪ During times of disaster and in the immediate following of it, a question is always heard: If there are no Indians on St. Joseph's Night, no brass band on Frenchmen, no crawfish bread while Trombone Shorty plays on a Sunday afternoon in late April, what is the purpose of being here?
If this is considered, more people would understand that New Orleans is more than a city for a good time, and is a place where years of cultural diversity have combined into a kaleidoscope of music, food, and people.
If the culture is examined, more people would understand the years of different cultures coming together and learning from one another for over 300 years.
New Orleans is more than laissez les bons temps rouler.
♪ ♪ WEBER: Everyone really has to know that all of Black American popular music, and all of popular music, really, comes from New Orleans music, uh, Black music.
The research that comes out of African music-making in Congo Square in the 19th century in New Orleans leads us to four characteristics that, that we can tie to this area, which influences everything after that.
One being call and response and crowd participation.
That is a New Orleans music characteristic that comes out of African music-making.
Another is rhythm, and polyphonic rhythms, as opposed to European harmonic style.
Another characteristic is music being an integral part of everyday life, as opposed to "traditional" or European standard, where it is a performer performing and an audience, uh, viewing that performance, and that goes to call and response, too, but the music-making is not simply for performance, meaning, it is also for worship purposes, for celebration purposes, for family purposes, for everyday life.
And also improvisation, you know, creating music on the spot.
All of these characteristics are the foundation of Black American music and popular music in America.
The influences of Mardi Gras Indians in New Orleans, you know, I think about songs, especially, like, um, "Iko Iko," which is originally interpreted for popular Black American music in the 1950s by Sugar Boy Crawford, and then the Dixie Cups of New Orleans, also, in the 1960s.
Dr. John had a version in the early 1970s.
A song like "Hey Pocky A-Way," by the Meters, which comes out in 1974.
Those are some examples that I know where the Mardi Gras Indian language has made its way into popular music created by New Orleanians, and especially Black New Orleanians.
NARRATOR: We are an inclusive culture.
We want you to eat with us.
We want you to dance with us.
We want you to be a part of the experience.
That's why it's so important to hold on to what we know and what we own.
We have to ensure that when you eat and dance with us, you take away with you a little piece of our pain.
To invest in us.
Just as you shouldn't be allowed to reap the benefits of a house you did not build and live in it rent-free, you shouldn't be allowed to take part in a culture without putting in some type of investment.
TERRANCE: COVID-19 has affected me greatly.
First off, I was only allowed to wear my suit once, and that was on Mardi Gras day.
I've worked on that suit all of last year, put in countless tears, hardships, sacrificing... Like, it was just hard for me to only be able to wear my suit one time.
I'm, I'm just going to go ahead and say that I believe that we can't even truly measure the effects of COVID now.
Probably won't be able to in five, ten years.
The, the trauma that's associated with, uh, just the uncertainty of, of your own movement and motion, not knowing if your parents and grandparents, whoever you have that's older, is going to be there on the other side of this, whenever the end does come.
Uh, things like that, um, are embedded with us in ways that we can't understand.
Hopefully, we use it to our benefit, the same way that we did with Katrina.
Hopefully, it turns itself into art and expression and a... A rebirth for us.
COVID-19, in many ways, is even more detrimental than Hurricane Katrina.
You think about it like this: After Hurricane Katrina, no matter what your situation was, there was, or there may have been someone there to help you from another city, another states, another country.
If you wanted to play somewhere else, you could get on a plane or get in your car and do so.
If you just wanted to go somewhere else... (chuckling): You could do so.
And if you were just here in New Orleans and not thinking about going anywhere else, you could get together with community and create fellowship, create music, create gathering.
With this, this is a culture killer, because the entire notion of gathering close together is no longer acceptable.
♪ ♪ NARRATOR: Following the murder of George Floyd, people of all backgrounds felt it was time to let their voices be heard.
Police brutality and intimidation has always been aimed at the Black community and communities of color, but with a mixture of people being stuck in their homes and hopes of avoiding death through one disease, the continuous loop of Black bodies being killed at the hands of the police showed the world that America had another pandemic problem.
But unlike COVID, there looks to be no cure in sight.
As a young African-American, you're in a perpetual state of not being heard.
So the only thing left was to protest.
EDWARDS: My, my first encounter, personal encounter with a police officer, happened when I was about nine years old.
I was in the basement of my... We have a raised basement house in Uptown New Orleans, and my brother and I and some other friends were in there working on our bicycles, as kids that age do, and about ten New Orleans Police Department officers came into our basement with guns drawn and accusing us of, uh, burglarizing that house.
And when we told them, "We live here," said, "You (muted) don't live here."
And I told them my mom was upstairs, said my mom was upstairs sleeping at the time.
I said, "My mama's upstairs, we can take, take you up there to see her."
And so they had me going upstairs to my mama with a gun in the back of my head, um... And that was a pretty horrific experience.
You know, my mama later told them, "Yeah, of course we live here."
And they didn't apologize.
They just walked out and left, you know.
And that was a bad experience I had with police.
And it's been ingrained in me ever since.
JONATHAN ISAAC JACKSON: So, tell me about...
I don't know.
Black Lives Matter.
- Uh, well... JACKSON: Like, how does that make you feel, all this stuff that's going on?
- It makes me feel like people don't care about Black people.
(device beeps) JACKSON: What type of people?
What do you mean?
- White people.
And that's why we do protest.
(voice breaking): They don't care about us.
JACKSON (softly): Aw... - (sobbing) TERRANCE: Me doing a protest was for me to bring light to the youth for us, because, um, I was, been seeing what was going on on social media with everything.
But I haven't really, I haven't seen anything, really, with the youth.
And, for me, I wanted to bring awareness to violence of all kinds: Black-on-Black crime, police brutality, all of that, because it is... For my generation, we're next up.
Next, it's going to be our world.
So we, I wanted to make sure that we were able to take a stand and shed light on what's going on for us, because, as I said, it's, next, it's going to be us running the world, and we got to make sure that it's right for the people after us and the generations to come.
♪ ♪ (talking in background) (continue talking) WOMAN: Watch yourself, watch yourself... (continue talking) ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ (drum pounding, people talking in background) MAN: I'm going to let you carry one.
♪ ♪ (child squeals) (drum pounding) (talking in background) ♪ ♪ (drum pounding) (drum and percussion playing, people talking in background) ♪ ♪ I am a lawyer!
PROTESTERS: I am not a threat!
- I'm the future.
PROTESTERS: I am not a threat!
MAN: I'm a leader.
PROTESTERS: I am not a threat!
WOMAN: I will be somebody.
PROTESTERS: I am not a threat!
WOMAN: I am a future lawyer!
PROTESTERS: I am not a threat!
WOMAN: I am a future doctor!
PROTESTERS: I am not a threat!
WOMAN: I am worthy!
PROTESTERS: I am not a threat!
WOMAN: I am a leader!
PROTESTERS: I am not a threat!
WOMAN: I will make it.
PROTESTERS: I am not a threat!
WOMAN: I am special.
PROTESTERS: I am not a threat!
(chant fades) ♪ ♪ (tambourines rattling) ♪ ♪ (people singing) MAN: That's on us!
Time to leave them some property and some businesses.
We can do it.
They are the future-- it's not about us.
Our life is a sacrifice, so that they don't have to go through what we went through and what our parents went through.
And that's some real talk.
I love all of y'all.
(percussion playing, people singing) (percussion and singing continue) (song fades) ♪ ♪ NARRATOR: As 2020 moved along, we all hoped for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, but spikes happened, and the virus continued to infect and kill.
Although New Orleans was able to maintain a low number of cases and deaths, a decision was made in November to cancel parades for Mardi Gras 2021.
This move was a logical one, meant to stop crowds from gathering during a pandemic.
T's first decision was to mask.
Something original, but not as complicated and intricate.
He just wanted to keep the tradition going.
But his love for community made him make a tough decision.
♪ ♪ TERRANCE: I've been masking for half my life, and I had to make a heartbreaking decision.
With COVID, I decided not to mask in order to keep a crowd from gathering.
With the numbers rising, I wanted to play it safe, and I had to make this choice for myself and my tribe.
In life, everybody has a choice, and some people may choose to mask, and I respect them for their decision.
The culture, though, is still embedded in me and will continue to live on through me-- all 365 days of the year, and not just Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras is just when I show off my suit.
♪ ♪ I took this time to go to Florida and visit universities.
One college in particular is the University of Miami, which I've always been interested in since I was in the third grade.
This year, though, was the first time I slept the night before Mardi Gras since I've been masking.
Waking up on Mardi Gras morning, it felt like something was missing.
Like my whole day was just thrown off.
I had a eerie feeling.
I was sick to my stomach, but in my heart, I know that I made the right decision for me, my family, my tribe, and my community.
NARRATOR: The Mardi Gras Indian culture has many origin stories, with some saying that it began as an homage to Native Americans giving refuge to escaped slaves, to others saying that it began as an offshoot of Buffalo Bill's Wild West show and the Buffalo Soldiers' exposure to Native Americans during America's westward campaign.
What we do know is that from the time that Americans decided to become a nation and to expand from the Atlantic to the Pacific, Native Americans were killed and moved from their land for the sake of capitalism.
In New Orleans, the fears of the African American community are similar: that over time, the culture can slowly disappear, and what's left will only be a memory of the people who suffered through pain and died to pass along traditions that can be traced back to Africa.
Our children are leaving.
Data shows that educated African Americans are leaving the city in search of higher wages elsewhere.
♪ ♪ With housing becoming unaffordable, the city is becoming more segregated.
Neighborhoods like Bywater, Tremé, St. Roch, and St. Claude are being gentrified.
In a city that still has a majority African American population, the influx of other races is changing the makeup of New Orleans.
And although African Americans have been the majority of NOLA's residents, they are minorities in wealth and ownership.
That's why the Mardi Gras Indians are so important.
They challenge you to look into the past, to look at the Indigenous cultures and the Black masking Indians after them, to see the similarities to what has happened to culture and what is happening now.
Some are holding on and continuing tradition.
Masking began out of protest.
Masking was a way for African Americans to parade in their own neighborhoods, with their kings being chiefs.
We don't know how long T will be able to continue the tradition, but we can see that even if better opportunities lie ahead for him that aren't here, and he decides to move on, the tradition is already being passed to his younger brothers and beyond.
This culture is not something you can take away from the area.
The food can be made and sold elsewhere and the music can be played elsewhere.
But the basis of the culture is not something that can be transferred.
And as we lose the people who keep the history of this culture going, the question is, what will happen to the culture of New Orleans when its people are gone?
There will always be stories told of who we are: some we tell, some that are told about us.
It's up to us to find ways in which we can document ourselves, whether it be through a film or through our suits.
Through trying times, we have learned that we can look to the past to see our own way to the future.
We learn to listen to the voice inside us.
An ancestral voice.
A voice that shows us the way, if we can only have patience, look, and listen.
We know that we can find the way, and that it was inside us all along.
We need to be reminded of where we come from and where we're going.
Over this pandemic, we have learned how to better express our experiences and those of our ancestors.
We're learning how to show the world through our own eyes and how to express our joy, pain, and trauma through connecting.
Although we missed an entire year of seeing tradition passed on through masking, second lines, and community communion, we know that as the sun rises over the next Mardi Gras, the tradition will continue.
(percussion playing, Indians singing) (percussion playing, Indians singing) (percussion and singing continue) (percussion and singing continue) (percussion and singing continue)