An exuberant New Orleans ritual commemorates the friendship of escaped slaves and Native Americans
Harrison called it his “Trail of Tears” suit, referring to the forced removal of tens of thousands of Native Americans from the south-eastern United States after the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Other Mardi Gras Indians pride themselves merely on being “pretty”—on having the most attractive, striking, eye-catching suit on Mardi Gras and St Joseph’s days—and that was important to Harrison too; he always looked correct when he “masked.” But he prized social commentary as well. He was a voracious reader, a passionate arguer, a labour leader among his fellow waiters, and he put himself into all his suits. As his daughter, Cherice Harrison-Nelson, says, “Suits tell stories.”
The dress is broadly, even generically, Native American; the suits are often complemented by huge feathered headdresses. The apparel derives not from the Choctaw, the Tunica, the Natchez or any of the other Native nations living around New Orleans, but from Natives of the Great Plains (noted for their broad headdresses). One theory is that New Orleanians became familiar with this look in the mid-to-late 19th century, thanks to travelling troupes such as Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. They may also have encountered it when, after the civil war, some freed slaves joined the army and met Plains Indians on the western frontier.
I guess "broadly, even generically" is a polite way of saying "falsely and stereotypically." Nothing about the Mardi Gras names, costumes, or customs represents genuine Indians. The celebrators may be celebrating genuine history, but they're doing so in false and stereotypical ways.
For more on Mardi Gras Indians, see Mardi Gras Costumes Get Copyright Protection and "Redskins" in Mardi Gras Costume.
Below: A man in a "Chief Chicken" outfit brandishes a shield and a tomahawk. On his outfit is a red-skinned savage brandishing a shield and a tomahawk. Message: Indians are devilish killers.
In any other case, this would be ugly stereotyping. In this case, it's ugly stereotyping.