First, if you haven't already, go see 12 Years a Slave. It might even be better to see it alone, so you have unencumbered viewing and time to process. You'll need it.
Second, the movie reminds me again that there are so many stories about New Orleans that escape casual conversation. Discussions that focus only around the revelry of Bourbon Street or punctuate in the punchline of calling the city 'Nawlins' (no one who lives in NOLA speaks like that) do the city and its history a disservice. Whether it's the forgotten story of Homer Plessy (and the 1896 Supreme Court case which codified 'seperate but equal') to the story of Solomon Northup told in 12 Years a Slave, New Orleans history always amazes the detailed listener with its tapestry.
And so here we arrive at a seemingly incongruous little scene in 12 Years a Slave where as they return from the working fields, a group of black slaves meets some American Indians. These American Indians have just caught some prey on a hunting trip and the scene initially portrays a potential standoff between the two groups. But instead, the American Indians share a barbecue with the slaves along with some merry dancing.
This connection between the American Indians and the slaves increased over time, with more and more gracious acts of kindness by the Indians. And each Mardi Gras, African-Americans in New Orleans pay homage to these Indians by dressing up as Mardi Gras Indians. As usual, the customs, complexity and styles of these Mardi Gras Indians have taken a fantastic New Orleans flavor, but the basic premise still honors the service of the American Indians during and after the time of slavery.
If you ever get the chance to visit New Orleans, stay away from Bourbon street and try to find some Mardi Gras Indians. Or visit the Back Street Museum to learn more about them.
But first, go see 12 Years a Slave.