In the context of New Orleans' Mardi Gras celebrations, the term "Indians" refers to a traditional group of African Americans who dress up like Native Americans, wearing costumes that feature elaborate feather headdresses and other pieces adorned with beads and sequins. The Mardi Gras Indians are organized into groups that are referred to as tribes or gangs, some of which have roots that can be traced back to the late 19th century, when these groups first started organizing. Some of the suits worn by Mardi Gras Indians feature a blend of influences from Native American and African design traditions.
The heavily beaded and embellished costumes that the Mardi Gras Indians wear are not only visually impressive but also heavy and typically quite expensive. A "Big Chief" of any given tribe may spend thousands of dollars on a single suit, which is usually handsewn by the Big Chief and is generally only worn once. These suits can weigh several hundred pounds, and the Chief will walk and dance in this heavy suit for hours. In addition to parading and wearing bright, elaborate costumes, the Mardi Gras Indians take part in singing and chanting of traditional songs that have been part of this culture for decades.