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Mardi Gras Indian Queens stake their claim to an essential role in a singular New Orleans tradition | NOLA.com

For more than 100 years, black New Orleanians have "masked Indian," walking through the city's streets dressed in feathers and beads, shouting chants and rattling tambourines. Their hand-sewn suits are massive creations of elaborate beadwork, feathered headdresses and intricate inlays of jewels crafted in tribute to Native American and African aesthetics, that take up to a full year to make.

The Guardians of the Flame are one of dozens of gangs, or tribes, of Mardi Gras Indians. Led by the Big Chief, groups like the Yellow Pocahontas, the Mohawk Hunters and the Creole Wild West parade on holidays, such as Mardi Gras, St. Joseph's night and Super Sunday in mid-March.

Honey & Littdell Bannister at the funeral of Big Queen Barbara Sparks of the Yellow Jackets Mardi Gras Indians at Charbonnet-Labat Funeral Home in New Orleans, LA, July 26, 2008.
Erika Goldring

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