LEAF International | NOLA +

Mardi Gras Indians

Located in Congo Square, New Orleans | Founded 2016 | 20 youth ages 10-18 served

Why New Orleans? For years, current Yellow Pocahontas + Mardi Gras Indian Chief, Shaka Zulu, has been a LEAF Collaborator, Ally and close friend. He has collaborated to help launch LEAF International programs in Haiti and Tanzania, been a strong support in connecting local LEAF Schools & Streets youth to the larger black Diaspora experience as expressed in New Orleans, and been a shaker and mover in the revival and honoring of traditional black Diaspora culture in the United States. The Mardi Gras Indians are geographically part of the United States, yet in culture, identity and history, are unique and distinct from the larger American cultural experience. Their culture is a dynamic expression of the collision and collaboration between Native Americans and the first escaped West African slaves on the continent. As such, we at LEAF International, and our partners as represented by these tribes, assert that this program should be seen as international in its inherent distinction from ‘American culture.’


Join LEAF & Burial Beer Co for the national release of Shallow Water – a beer dedicated to the Mardi Gras Indian culture.





Yellow Pocahontas + Mardi Gras Indian Program

Program Overview

At LEAF, we recognize and celebrate Mardi Gras Indian culture as one of the most vibrant living cultPerfMardiGrasCY (3)ures in the world and especially in our country. Over the past 15 years, Shaka & Na’imah Zulu have performed at LEAF Festivals, teaching Mardi Gras Indian traditions with LEAF Schools & Streets residencies. Additionally, they have gone to Tanzania and Haiti to start four LEAF International programs across the globe. This journey comes full circle. We recognize this global cultural treasure in our midst and support Shaka Zulu who is now the leading Mardi Gras Indian cultural preservationist and is the new Chief of the Yellow Pocahontas. As Shaka says, “New Orleans is another country”, and it is critical at this point in history for this rich tradition to be passed forward from the culture keepers to the youth.

A custom filled with splendor and mystery, the New Orleans Black Indian (also known as Mardi Gras Indians) is a cultural phenomenon unique to New Orleans, Louisiana, which emerged over 200 years ago. This quintessential folk ritual has preserved a traditional art form of the indigenous inhabitants of Louisiana known as Masking. Paying homage to their ancestors who protected escaping enslaved Africans while also fighting to maintain rights to their land and culture, the New Orleans Black Indian created a yearly ritual of crafting elaborate beaded and feathered suits every year to give reverence to the first  inhabitants of Louisiana  (commonly referred to as Native Americans). It is this tradition that will be taught to program participants, to ensure the longevity of ‘Masking’ and its meaning to upcoming generations.


Through the project students are empowered by:

  • Mardi Gras Indian Cultural Traditions passed on verbally
  • Mardi Gras Indian Chants, drumming, and tambourine
  • Visualizing, designing, and sewing skills to make a suit
  • Increased self esteem
  • Awareness of cultural traditions
  • Leadership skills
Meet our Students

Coming soon! The Mardi Gras Indian program is being launched fall of 2016, and we look forward to sharing with you all the students in this dynamic program!

Meet Our Culture Keeper

 Since 1986, Chief SLIShakaAtBurialhaka Zulu has performed across the United States and Europe as a featured solo stiltdancer as well as with his company, Zulu Connection. Chief Shaka is also the founder and director of the International School of Stiltdancing. Chief Shaka Zulu spellbounds his audiences with his colorful and elaborate costumes, tremendous heights, extraordinary acrobatics and magnificent dance moves. He is a master of instruments of the African Diaspora i.e., the djun-jun, djembe, congas, m’balafon, shakare, talking and sabar drums. Most recently, Shaka was a featured performer at the International Cultural and Tourism Festival in Beijing China. In the same year, Shaka also performed as a percussionist at the Gronau Jazz Festival in Gronau, Germany and also the Netherlands Jazz Festival in Amsterdam, Netherlands. In the United States, Shaka trains students in stiltdancing while also teaching the origin and history of the ancient African artform of stiltdancing.
In addition to stiltdancing and drumming, Chief Shaka Zulu is also a New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian and is now Big Chief of the prestigious tribe Yellow Pocahontas. Chief Shaka Zulu has exhibited his suits both nationally and internationally at museums and festivals. In 2015 his New Suit was featured in Berlin, Germany at Sounds of the City, an exhibit featuring the culture of New Orleans. Most recently his suit, “Shango” will be on exhibit in The Netherlands at the Africa Musem in November 2017.
Now co-owner of Golden Feather Mardi Gras Indian Restaurant Gallery, he runs one of the most unique establishments in the city, a specialty dining experience featuring foods of Congo Square, beautiful framed art and stunning Mardi Gras Indian Suits. Chief Shaka Zulu lectures on the history of the Black Masking Mardi Gras Indians at Golden Feather. Additionally Shaka is co-producer of the touring production, New Orleans Voices of Congo Square, a vibrant historical narrative of New Orleans Magical music, colorful dance and mysterious Indian Culture.

Project Highlights
October LEAF International NOLA Mardi Gras Indian Program officially launched!
Burial Beer Co. shares their love of and dedication to helping support, share and preserve the Mardi Gras Indian traditions by becoming a LEAF International | NOLA funder and supporter. Thank you!
Shaka & Na’imah Zulu help launch LEAF International Haiti
Shaka & Na’imah Zulu travel with a LEAF delegation to Tanzania, and helped launch programs in collaboration with Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots programs in Dar Es Salem, Arusha, and Lugufu Refugee Camp
Shaka Zulu begins LEAF Visiting Artist Residencies, impacting 500+ youth in Asheville by connecting them to the Mardi Gras Indian tradition
Shaka Zulu, current Tribal Chief of Yellow Pocahontas of the Mardi Gras Indians, holds his first performance at LEAF Festival. A relationship begins.  

Featured Partners


From music instruments to child sponsorships, our people-centered programs depend on generous givers like you to grow and thrive. Donate today! 100% of your gift goes directly to support music and arts education programs in the country of your choosing.

 Learn more about the Mardi Gras Indian, or Black Indian, tradition of New Orleans, Louisiana 

The Mardi Gras Indians are comprised, in large part, of the African-American communities of New Orleans. While these Indians have paraded for well over a century, their parade is perhaps the least recognized Mardi Gras tradition.

The Mardi Gras Indians named themselves after native Indians to pay them respect for their assistance in escaping the tyranny of slavery. It was often local Indians who accepted slaves into their society when they made a break for freedom. They have never forgotten this support.

The New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian Council was formed in 1987 to help preserve and enrich the Indian Culture. In August of 1992, the Big Chiefs of each of the major tribes gathered together for a historic celebration of unity.