Guardians of the Flame

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With the Coast exchanging their Christmas trees for Mardi Gras beads, the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center of Arts and Education in Ocean Springs welcomes a piece of great New Orleans tradition.

Every year in New Orleans, the Guardians of the Flame, also known as the Mardi Gras Indians, hand craft beautiful pieces called ‘suits’ during Mardi Gras season. The children choose the color for the year and Maroon Queen Cherice Harrison-Nelson will wear it proudly with admiration for her culture. “It’s an homage to the mutual struggles of people of African descent and Native Americans to be free and self-actualized in America, to have freedom of movement, freedom of expression, freedom of practicing their cultural ways.”

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Only females of Queen Nelson’s DNA have a hand in sewing and piecing the suits together. It is countless hours of work and preparation, but it all pays off to showcase the elegance of tradition. “It can be a story of historical merit. It may be a personal story. There’s one about my great-great grandfather who was enslaved in 1820. It’s my story. I get to tell it anyway I want to.”

Nelson tells News 25 some of her favorite suits and says she had a great time creating all of them, but there’s one in particular that stands out. It’s the Survivor Warrior Queen Reesie suit that was crafted back in 2012 during her chemotherapy treatment. It kept her motivated to overcome cancer. “Everything becomes an inspiration. It’s a presentation of years of stories, hurt, pain, joy, celebration. Everything comes out when you are in the process of creating.”

The exhibit will remain open until March 29th so the entire Coast can learn about the masking Indian. “It’s an honor for someone to see something that we have done and want to share it with their community. I’m very honored and humbled by this opportunity.”