Shopping For Tradition

I spend a good part of the day today shopping. Yeah, shopping for tradition.

I had promised Laurita “Queen Rita” Dollis, widow of Big Chief Bo Dollis, that OffBeat would help her assemble materials for her annual retreat for the Mardi Gras Indian “Queens.”


“Queen Rita” and her son, Gerard “Little Bo” Dollis. Photo: Stephen Maloney.

Mrs. Dollis puts together a retreat every year for the female contingent and helpmates of the chiefs of the Mardi Gras Indian tradition. It includes relaxation, training, health-related topics, inspirational speakers, a connection to nature and a renewal of spirituality—which is the basis of the Mardi Gras Indian tradition. Dollis has put a council together for the Queens because she believes that women should also be recognized as part of the tradition.

So we spent a bit of time at the local Office Depot, making copies of materials, getting notebooks and folders, pens, etc. for her participants.

OffBeat is happy to do something like this; it’s good that we can give a little something back to the cultural community that we support with the magazine.

I wonder how many of us who have witnessed the spectacle and glory of the Mardi Gras Indians appreciate what goes into this tradition. It’s not just an excuse to dress and play Indian. It’s the culmination of a spiritual quest and dedication that boggles my mind.

Have you ever tried to sew a patch for an Indian suit? Do you know how long it takes to make the patches, every single year, for one single costume? Do you know how expensive it is to make one suit, with the thousands of beads and feathers, not taking into account the hundreds, sometimes thousands of hours of hand labor?

The Indian tradition just blow me away with their inherent pride, honor, history and dedication. I particularly admire the efforts of Sylvester Francis and his wife in creating the Backstreet Museum; people like Ronald Lewis and his House of Dance and Feathers; Cherise Nelson’s active promotion of women in the Mardi Gras Indian tradition and the Mardi Gras Indian Hall of Fame; the Mardi Gras Indian Council.

Mardi Gras Indians have become a pretty common sight to people who live in New Orleans. But I kind of hate to see that cultural tradition “corrupted” by seeing a “Mardi Gras Indian” standing in front of St. Louis Cathedral looking for tips for photographs. Yuck.


What do you know about the Mardi Gras Indians?