As part of our course at Tulane, “Beyond Neutral Ground: Root Culture and Civic Media in New Orleans,” our team was tasked with telling the story of the Guardians of the Flame and the Mardi Gras Indian traditions. For many of us, New Orleans is a temporary home – one we often claim with pride but one that is not ours. And like all of this city’s deep-rooted cultures, the Mardi Gras Indians represent a tradition that began long before we all arrived here freshman year.
We were lucky enough to learn about this culture from the culture bearers themselves – We read Al Kennedy’s Big Chief Harrison and the Mardi Gras Indians and got to meet Kennedy; Big Chief Harrison’s wife, Herreast; his daughter, Cherice; and his grandson, Brian throughout the semester. We also met and got to know Markeith Tero, a former student of Cherice’s who has forged his own path within the culture, teaching younger generations the histories and traditions of the Mardi Gras Indian and second line cultures.
Our team was excited by the Guardians of the Flame, and inspired by their passion and perseverance. When it came time to plan how we would tell their story, however, we found ourselves at a loss. The story of the Guardians is not just a story of ceremonial attire, celebratory music, or masking; It is not just a story about Mardi Gras morning. It is a story that stems from resistance and negotiations of power and promise – it is a story of a people who stood up and chose to exist on their own terms. In Cherice’s words, it a story “where art, history, activism, and advocacy intersect.”
So we decided to facilitate a process by which the culture bearers could tell their stories themselves, in a way that we hope demonstrates the ways in which this root culture cannot be confined to the limits of time or assumption. Our project features three “Generations of the Flame” through past, present, and future. First, we highlight the past, using an interview with Cherice to discuss her father and great grandfather and how their legacies have informed the traditions that are still alive today. Next, we’ll move to the present, showcasing a video taken on Mardi Gras morning 2017 of the Guardians performing, and we’ll end on the future, shifting attention to Markeith and his work with the Young Rollers Social Aid and Pleasure Club.