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Mardi Gras Indians have been parading in New Orleans at least since the mid-19th century, possibly before.
Mardi Gras Indians are African-American Carnival revelers in New Orleans, Louisiana, who dress up for Mardi Gras in suits influenced by Native American ceremonial apparel.
Collectively, their organizations are called “tribes”. There are about 38 tribes. They range in size from a half dozen to several dozen members. The tribes are largely independent, but a pair of umbrella organizations loosely coordinate the Uptown Indians and the Downtown Indians.
The tradition was said to have originated from an affinity between Africans and Indians as minorities within the dominant culture, and blacks’ circumventing some of the worst racial segregation laws by representing themselves as Indians.
There is also the story that the tradition began as an African American tribute to American Indians who helped runaway slaves. These slaves married into the tribes on occasion.
An appearance in town of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in the 1880s was said to have drawn considerable attention and increased the interest in masking as Indians for Mardi Gras