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LET THE CULTURE FLOW

BIG CHIEF OF THE WASHITAW NATION

That is, David Peters-Montana — a (now retired) Big Chief and jeweler by trade, as well as grandfather to our graphic designer, Dejah. As a 4th generation Carnival Indian, Montana is one of many New Orleanians living out the culture of a practice dating back to the early 19th century. Mardi Gras Indians embody the craftsmanship, attention to detail, and passion for tradition that drive our work every day — creating one-of-a-kind custom acetate blends and hand-crafted eyewear that allows you to express your individuality, New Orleans style.

WHO ARE THE CARNIVAL INDIANS?

Also known as Mardi Gras Indians, they are tribes of New Orleanians who mask and parade in intricate, hand-beaded suits during Carnival. “We are connected to the Caribbean parts of the world — Haiti, Cuba, Trinidad — all these different places have carnival,” says Montana. “But we are also very connected to the native Black Indians, all the way up in Canada to all the way down in Monroe, Louisiana.”

HOW ARE THEY RELATED TO NATIVE AMERICANS?

“We pay homage to the Native Americans, because they’re the ones that started it all,” says Montana. “When the slaves came and were freed by Lincoln, a lot of them ran to the swamps because they weren’t really free. They ran to people who looked like them, in an area that looked like where they had come from — and they meet all these native people of the city, and they marry, and they make children. And there are nations of Black Indians that are still around, like (our namesake), the Ouachita people of Louisiana.”

HOW ARE THE SUITS MADE?

According to Montana, each suit is a year in the making, with anywhere from 10 to 15 hours spent working on the suit each day. “These suits are carefully hand-beaded — one bead at a time,” says Montana. “And you come up with your own ideas (for the suits). As a kid, you learn so much about the culture, the beadwork, the wrapping of the feathers, the different designs that we use. And with each one, teach one — that’s how you keep it going. A lot of spirit is in that suit. And when you put these suits on, it’s a transformation.”

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