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Mardi Gras Indians give special performance to woman with cancer who has photographed them for years

Mardi Gras Indians give special performance

A New Orleans woman has photographed and documented the stories of the Mardi Gras Indians for years, but Wendy Good was diagnosed with brain cancer last spring and hasn't been able to cover their work. So, they brought the party to her front porch — and gave her a special performance.

The Mardi Gras Indians are a New Orleans carnival organization comprised mainly of African American communities in the city, according to the New Orleans Mardi Gras website. Rather than being known as a "krewe" like most Mardi Gras organizations, the Mardi Gras Indians hail from different groups known as "tribes" that are organized by neighborhood, of which there are about three dozen.

The groups don elaborate, handmade "suits" featuring intricate hand-beading and parade during Carnival season, as well as other holidays in the city, reports NPR.

Though it is not clear when exactly the Mardi Gras Indians were established, one theory posits that their history dates back to the 1700s, when slaves would gather in Congo Square to play traditional African music. Their costumes honor native tribes who sheltered and protected escaped slaves.

Good, a New Orleans resident, developed an interest in the culture of Mardi Gras Indians after Hurricane Katrina and began snapping photos of the "tribes." 

"Mom was a photographer unofficially for a long time," Wendy's daughter, Emily, told CBS News. "She's self-taught. She was taking photos around town."

Eventually, Wendy introduced herself to David Peters Montana, the "Big Chief" of Washitaw Nation, and gave him "stacks of photos of him that she had taken," said Emily.

Montana, who creates all of his own "suits," instantly became friends with the photographer. "We kind of welcomed her to our tribe," Montana told CBS affiliate WWL-TV.

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Wendy poses with Montana.  Wendy Good

Mardi Gras Indians' rehearsals are normally off-limits to the general public, who usually have to catch the groups parading in the streets. However, Good was able to document the vibrant practice for more than six years. 

"My mom was sitting there taking photos," said Emily. "She had been journaling as well. She would send photos out with written summaries to friends and family."

However, this year — for the first time in years — Wendy wasn't able to capture her friends in action. She was diagnosed with glioblastoma in April 2019 and since then complications have led to her needing a wheelchair. 

"It's probably the thing she misses the most about her old life," Emily said. "They are still her closest friends, she talks to them all the time. She misses them a lot."

So, Montana and other members of the "tribe" brought the party to her. The "tribe" held practice Sunday and decided to stop by Wendy's front porch to give her a special performance, Emily told CBS News.

"She's been sick so we thought we might do something for her," Montana told WWL-TV. "She's one of the greatest persons in my life."

Wendy posted a video of the performance to Facebook and showed the group serenading Wendy as she sat in her wheelchair on the steps of her home, tapping her hand along to the music.

"I can't walk with them this year so this was the biggest treat, the biggest treat," Wendy told WWL-TV of the performance. 

Wendy has accompanied Montana and his "tribe" on home visits in the past to people who cannot leave their residences — making this most recent experience meaningful. "It was very humbling for her to be a part of this visit," Emily said. "It made her year."

While Wendy certainly misses her time photographing and documenting the work of her friends, the special serenade helped lift her spirits — and those of her family as well. 

"I felt very emotional, but I think it was also just a moment of gratitude," Emily said. "I think just being very humbled and appreciative of what her friends went above and beyond to do for her."

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