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Saturday, July 09, 2005

Will You Be Pretty Like He Is?

We are In-juns, In-juns, In-juns
of the nation, the whole wild creation
And we won't bow down,
on that dirty ground,
Because I love to hear
you call my In-di-an Red...

I'm in New Orleans today. Beaucoup Blues, the event which brought me out here, got postponed due to concerns about Hurricane Dennis. But it's all good. Last night, I participated in the Celebration of Life of a great man: Chief "Tootie" Montana of the Mardi Gras Indians, a group of tribes which grew from Black folks who had escaped slavery and were taken in by their Indian/Native American brothers and sisters.

The Chief of Chiefs Tootie Montana died recently at a special session of the New Orleans City Council, which was called to address police brutality complaints at the Mardi Gras Indian celebration last March. Chief Tootie was one of the speakers, and he was among other chiefs and supporters when he died. He was at the podium, recalling the police brutality that he has seen and experienced in the city throughout his life -- countering the argument being put forth that the recent brutality was a "misunderstanding" and something that doesn't usually happen. Then Chief Tootie had a sudden heart attack and collapsed. His final words: "This has got to stop."

What should we make of this? Well, there are many people out there who are tourists of the New Orleans Mardi Gras (or, alternatively, tourists of Black culture or anything "ethnic") who will speak of their admiration of how pretty the costumes are of the Mardi Gras Indians, particularly the ones made and worn by Chief Tootie each year.

If you focus too much on the Mardi Gras suit, you miss the essence of the man. Tootie Montana is the prettiest. As I attended the celebration of his life last night, I couldn't help but be moved by the many rememberances of his dedication and commitment to who the Mardi Gras Indians are, shown in one of many ways by the serious care and detail that he gave to preparing the most pretty and colorful Mardi Gras suits (some take a full year to make). The Chief's passion to seriously commit himself to a thing is what made him pretty. Can you express love through your work and your play? Can you express your love for the brothers and sisters around you? Do you have enough love in you - and around you - to give of yourself, and to resist oppression with heart? Can you be that pretty?

If you were there with me last night, you could feel the man's seriousness, as well as the warmth that others felt around him. You could feel the community's resistance to unjust power, that Chief Tootie empodied, and the struggle that has lasted generations. I had never before experienced a moment like this. African. American-American. Indian. Distinct experiences that are joined together without contradiction, expressed through the Indian Red. "We won't bow down, on that dirty ground."

Chief Tootie Montana didn't need any validation from white people. Or from anyone else, from that matter. He is the prettiest. Brothers out there, you can take this however you like. More of us need to be more pretty like the Chief of Chiefs. I intend to be. I challenge you to become more pretty than me.

Emancipated by Quintus Jett @ 10:36 AM

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