HOUMA, LOUISIANA-- One of the most magical abilities of Santa Claus is for him to appear in a wide array of forms. As a kid, growing up African American, I remember my mother's collection of black Santas and Angels. Every year, she would add to the collection and one year, she bought an Eskimo Santa Claus and told me that everyone has their own tradition and that is the beauty of the human spirit. The one constant is in a child's ability to believe.
Down in Houma, Louisiana, one Santa Claus has been part of the community's holiday tradition for over 30 years. Sporting traditional Native American regalia, Thomas Dardar Jr. calls himself "Indian Santa." He's the head of a toy drive for children in the Houma area, and every year, he and his family collect thousands of toys. Thomas used to be the Chief of the United Houmas Indians. However, he's always been well- respected in the community as Santa Claus. It's a tradition that started in 1985 during Hurricane Juan. Several fishermen in the tribe were unable to go fishing and were in need of holiday cheer. Thomas' uncle Joe decided he could do something about it. Eventually, Thomas joined in on the fun carried the tradition himself.
Unlike in the story of old, there are no elves in Thomas' operation. His entire family works hard collecting donations, raising money and opening up their hearts and wallets to make sure there is a toy in the hands of every girl and boy. This work of the heart is a great feat because they appear every year in front of thousands of children at multiple sites.
"We have a 20-foot trailer which is loaded, we have a building and also another small trailer that we will be using tonight to deliver toys," says Thomas.
I accompanied Thomas and his family as they gave out toys on one night. Thomas prepared me for the journey saying, "there's so much of a need out there and we are just doing a small little part of it. When the children come up, some of them will be really scared, but before they leave, we will have them laughing."
Besides giving toys, Thomas also gives a gift of diversity and knowledge about the Houma people. "A lot of people believe that the Native Americans are extinct and when you go out there they ask you are you real. I grab their hand say touch. I'm not a ghost so that makes me real," says Thomas.
It takes Thomas and his family a lot of time to prepare for the holiday season and naturally, work begins for next year's toy drive, right after Christmas.
This year, Thomas and his family will be making quite a few rounds including this weekend, where he will be in Raceland, Bayou Dularge and Golden Meadow. However, you can always find "Indian Santa" if you know where to look. There's a Facebook page with his whereabouts. Click here to track him down and meet him.