This hand-made Mardi Gras celebration dress was sewn and worn by Ms. Herreast Harrison in 1985 as part of the long-standing tradition in the African-American community of masquerading as Mardi Gras Indians.
In the 19th century, some Native American groups in New Orleans welcomed, accepted, and sheltered runaway slaves. As a form of respect and homage to the friendship of Native American groups, African-Americans in New Orleans masqueraded as these native people. Ms. Herreast Harrison, who speaks and teaches nationally about Mardis Gras Indian culture, has described how "When they masqueraded in the neighborhoods, they brought beauty, eloquence, power - everything to the people in the neighborhood."
Early costumes were made with turkey feathers, ribbon and sequins, though later examples, like this elaborate costume with headdress and train, is designed with ostrich plumes, velvet and rhinestones.
Ms. Herreast Harrison, alongside her family, has dedicated her life to the preservation of Mardi Gras Indian culture. She serves as Program Director of the Guardian Institute, a Ninth Ward New Orleans community organization she established in 1988 to promote education and local cultural traditions. In 2007, at age 69, Herreast launched the Big Chief Donald Harrison Sr. Book Club, a program to ensure children in the New Orleans area would be connected with as many books as possible after their loss in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.