Legendary Chief Robbe (Robert Lee) founded The Mardi Gras Indian Council in 1985 to represent the Mardi Gras Indian tribes and preserve the unique New Orleans tradition of "masking Indian." Chief Robbe asked Bertrand Butler to gather the neighborhood leaders known as chiefs, and he has served as executive director ever since.
Every year for Carnival season, neighborhood-based groups of African Americans appear on the streets in elaborate, handsewn suits of the finest beads and feathers, confronting other tribes in ritualistic encounters that involve chanting, dancing and competition for the “prettiest” suits. The breath-taking suits embody the artistic genius, stamina and resourcefulness of the chief and queens. The multiple generations of family and community members who accompany them, in the roles of wild men, spy boys and flag boys, testify to their power as leaders and the genesis of that strength in a community brought together to maintain an extraordinary tradition against great odds.
Two documentaries created by Ohio State University Newark campus students and aired on WYES-TV capture the history of the Mardi Gras Indians.