Mardi Gras Indians are being introduced to much of the country through Treme, but Clarke Peters had an idea what he was getting into when he signed on to play Albert Lambreaux. He first saw them when Wendell Pierce, who co-starred with him on The Wire, invited him to Mardi Gras in 2004.
“It blew my mind,” Peters says. “Those men made those costumes. They sewed every bead, they picked every feather. The process is daunting, just selecting a feather to see how it moves, selecting a bead to see how the light works on them. There’s not another community of Black men in America that does anything like this.”
Peters did background reading to prepare for the part, reading Louisiana history, about the connections between African Americans and Native Americans, and in his mind traced Lambreaux’s roots back to Africa. He worked with Big Chief Donald Harrison of Congo Nation and Otto “Chief Fiyo” Dejan of the 7th Ward Hard Head Hunters to get Lambreaux right (Dejan plays one of Lambreaux’s Indians on the show). Through Harrison, he says, “I learned what to do and what not to do. There are certain signs that are either inviting or provocative to another chief.” From Dejan he learned the chants. “Even in that, it’s pretty specific what you say, what not to say, what order you say them in,” he says. He knew he’d got the attitude right when another Mardi Gras Indian chief challenged him on set. “The only response I have to any challenge is what’s been scripted, so I ran it to him, but I ran it to him like it was mine,” Peters says. “He said, ‘Yeah, you’ll do.’
“If you’ve ever seen a Mardi Gras Indian chief’s eyes when he dons the suit, that man is another zone. His spirit is elevated to another place. They’re warriors.”