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Indian Anxiety

When I moved to New Orleans, I noticed that there were McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chickens, and I thought to myself, this place is as homogenized as the rest of the country (and much of the planet). The culture here isn’t so unique and different, I said to myself.

Then some friends took me to see the Indians come out at Bayou St. John on Super Sunday, and I realized I was wrong. This was my “New Orleans moment,” if you will, the point at which I realized that New Orleans does retain unique cultural traditions. To a white boy from the suburban Midwest, these “unique cultural traditions” are strange and freaky and weird and otherworldly and wonderful. They are what makes this city worth fighting for.

If you’ve never seen the Indians in the psychedelic finery, you probably don’t know what I’m talking about, and I’m not sure I can describe it. Words fail me. So, check out this picture by the New Orleans Lady:


She has many more photos you can peruse. Or if you want to know more, read the Wikipedia article. Yeah, the costumes are fantastic, but trust me when I say it’s much more than just costumes. It’s an assemblage of traditions and songs and music and stories and behavior and art that proves culture isn’t just something that you see in a museum.

Everyone calls them Mardi Gras Indians, but that’s a misnomer, because they don’t just come out on Mardi Gras. In fact, my favorite time to see the Indians has always been Super Sunday, which is usually the Sunday closest to St. Joseph’s Day. It’s “super” because Indians come out and parade in two different locations around the city, both uptown and downtown.

But since Katrina, Super Sunday just ain’t so super anymore. It was only uptown last year, and this year looks like it might be the same.

That makes me sad for a number of reasons. The downtown mustering ground was on Bayou St. John. Besides being a few blocks from my house, and being a beautiful open space, there’s also a historical resonance, because the bayou was used by Native Americans since Pre-Columbian times.

Will they ever come back downtown, back to the bayou?

The downtown Indians are mysterious, and the downtown route was never published in advance, so I don’t really know for sure what will happen this Sunday afternoon. That’s the source of my anxiety — not knowing.

The greater anxiety is knowing how this whole tradition is at risk. It’s been at risk for decades, I suppose, but now more than ever, what with the flood and the diaspora and the plodding recovery.

Published inNew Orleans


  1. Lee Lee

    I didn’t realize that NOLA had an indian presence, even though it makes sense in afterthought. With the rich soil and waterways abound.

    We’re back BTW.

  2. Michael Michael

    I heard via phone that only the Uptown Indians will be marching this SuperSunday.

  3. Last year, we cruised around looking for them, and finally heard on WWOZ that they were having the pow-wow that night. I guess WWOZ will have the best info on Sunday.

  4. A co-worker of mine also expressed anxiety about violence on the uptown route. Remember the police harassing the Indians there a couple years back. She felt like for whatever reason this wouldn’t happen downtown.

  5. i got an email that the aclu was looking for legal observers for the uptown indian parade. so i guess that is a response to the police harassment in the past. and i also read from numerous sources today that only the uptown indians will be parading on sunday; tamborine and fan (downtown indians) have apparently not announced a date or anything yet.

  6. My grandson loves the Indian music. I’d love for him to see them. Can you guys suggest a location for me to take him? And is this in the morning? (I have a friend who IS an Indian, but is also unfortunately usually not in any condition to tell me anything substantive! I asked him, he said, “Sunday.”)

  7. Well, hey, it IS on Sunday, right? Duh! 😉

  8. Bart, we don’t live that far from Washington/LaSalle, so feel free to park over by us and walk over to the parade. I’m definitely going.

    I came across this info @

    >>>>UPDATE 3/10/07: Here is what the 2007 route will probably be starting at 1:30pm (remembering that nothing really starts on time in N’Awlins):

    LaSalle @ Washington, down LaSalle to MLK Blvd., left on MLK to N. Claiborne, down Claiborne *back to Washington or *MAYBE down Galvez, if the street isn’t too torn up (their headresses and costumes are so heavy, they need to be on streets that are not so torn up that they will stumble and fall).

  9. well, when i was in houston I Missed seeing this kinda stuff ..

    just imagine how they make their suits only yo wear once or twice a year Then they sell them to pay for more materials to make new suits for the next year .. thats a whole lot of canvas material also

  10. 2007 super sunday was insane! and the aclu was out in full force. and tons of tribes showed up!

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