The traditional Mardi Gras "krewe." Krewes typically name their parades after Roman or Greek legendary figures. Mardi Gras Krewes have King, Queen, Dukes, Knights, and Captains, or a variant on that theme. Established krewes often invite only.
Few slum residents thought they could join a New Orleans parade. This cultural divide was caused by slavery and racism. Black New Orleans areas established their own Mardi Gras traditions. Their krewes are called after fictitious Indian tribes based on ward or gang streets.
The Mardi Gras Indians called themselves after native Indians to honor their help in fleeing slavery. Local Indians regularly welcomed liberated slaves into their communities. They never forgot this help. Each year, Blacks dress in native Indian attire to pay homage to the support the Natives gave Slaves. After the massacre of natives being slaughtered, there were literally none left to carry on their native traditions. For their help, the slaves picked up their traditions so these cultural traditions of the natives wouldn't be forgotten.
Many Indians experienced violence during Mardi Gras long ago. Scores were typically settled on this day. Due to the pandemonium of Mardi Gras, when streets were crowded and everyone was masked, authorities were often unable to interfere. This prevented many families from attending the "parade," and worried a mother whose children wished to join the Indians.
Two Mardi Gras Indian tribes pass each other today, creating a live theater of art and culture. Each tribe's fashion is displayed in a pleasant yet competitive manner. Their art and workmanship are compared.
Many today celebrate this holiday peacefully despite its violent past. Each Big Chief will step back and admire the other chief's outfit with a show of self-confidence.
Good news: Mardi Gras Indians no longer "settle scores" on the day. Violence has stopped as Indians now compare their song, dance, and attire with other tribes on that day. Mardi Gras Indians have spent hundreds of hours and dollars on their suits and won't risk damaging them in a fight. Museums and historical groups worldwide respect this folk art and history legacy. The shift is striking and pleasant.
There are over 40 Mardi Gras Indian Tribes in New Orleans today.