42 Tribes

42 TRIBES Week 32: Big Chief John “Twin” Ohillia


Red Cheyenne Tribe
2016 – Present – Big Chief John “Twin” Ohillia

At the age of fifteen, Big Chief John “Twin” Ohillia started following the Comanche Hunters and fell in love with the Black Masking Culture. When Chief Ohillia’s cousin Big Chief Bo of the Young Cheyenne came on the scene, John started following him holding his stick, wings, and hat while his twin brother, Jonathan Ohillia, played drums. Chief John says, “I never stopped after that the needle started to roll”. At that point, Chief was ready. He sat down with Big Chief Bo to speak about him and his brother masking under Young Cheyenne. Originally, they were going to run Chief Scout, but Ferdinand Beaguard stepped in and said they were going to run Flag Boy. In 2002, Johns’ twin brother Jonathan Ohillia masked as Flag Boy. After that John was ready to start sewing for himself, but then Katrina hit. As soon as they returned to New Orleans, he started sewing again. As Chief John says when he started sewing again it was “All hell, tell the Captain, I had to do something”. John started running Flag Boy and fell deeper in love with this culture before evolving into Big Chief of the Red Cheyenne.

Q) After Katrina you were in St. Francisville, was Black Masking Culture calling you?
A) I wanted to get back to New Orleans and find me an artist, I had to get things drawn up. I mean, I couldn’t stay away. It was just calling me, the culture in New Orleans alone is there, so I was ready for it.

Q) How does your family tribe look so unified from the Spy Boy to the Chief?
A) It’s not just the Chiefs that have ideas. From the front to the back if you put everybody’s ideas into one that is how you’re going to look. The Chief might have better ideas than the Spy, the Spy may have better ideas than the Chief but if y’all could sit down and come to the roundtable and put the ideas together, man that’s one hell of a gang.

Q) If everyone shared the mentality of sticking together, do you believe it could take Black Masking Culture around the world?
A) If you stick together you could move it, you could make that move. Don’t get me wrong everybody sticks together. It’s just you from one ward and they’re from another ward. But they stick together, and we stick together as one unit. There is no doubt about that. All the Chiefs get together and do what they need to do for each other.

Q) How would you describe the Spirit of your Tribe?
A) Our Spirit is family oriented. We come together as one, it’s no different than this one (immediate family). There’s no division in this gang. We hustle and bustle together. We bead together, we sew together, we rock together, we leave together, and you’re never gonna catch us alone.

Q) We know your brother started following Indians playing the drums, what does the music of this culture do to you?
A) It’s a wonderful feeling to sing and you hear the drums and you sit back and just listen. When it’s that time to come out you just let it flow. Just to hear them drums play, the congos going, the tambourines going, cowbells going, man them drum beats ain’t nothing nice!

Q) What is your advice to anyone that wants to learn more about this culture?
A) If you really want to know something and they really want to teach something to somebody, get one of the Chiefs to go in there and talk to them. Learn the history and get the background. Don’t just jump in this and think, “I know this so I’m gonna go tell somebody else this story”. Learn the background and learn the history.

Q) How would you describe this culture to people outside New Orleans?
A) There’s a long history behind this from the beadwork to what we stand for. We don’t just come from picking up a needle and sitting down thinking about why we’re in this. We come from what the slaves went through and how they fought and how we fought for a long situation with this. It comes from the background of us hiding the slaves and everything else, it’s not just the beadwork.

Q) What are some of the responsibilities that come with being Chief?
A) Let’s say you have twenty people in your tribe, you’ve got to put up with twenty different attitudes. You have to deal with those attitudes on the street. You have a responsibility to the kids, the adults, and the spectators. You’ve got to control every mountain that’s in your gang. You’ve got to control every mouth, and sometimes it doesn’t work. You’ve got to control that for your gang to be successful. You’ve got to know who’s not feeling good and who doesn’t want to do this or that. It’s a lot of headaches but you’ve got to learn how to deal with it. You can’t just look out for yourself anymore. You’ve got to teach them what to do because one day I might not be here anymore.

Q) What do you want your legacy to be and how do you want your tribe remembered in 300 years?
A) I want to be remembered as a responsible good role model that did his job as a Chief, knowing that my gang can carry on without me. I want my tribe to be as beautiful as possible and I want them to make a mark on the City that no one else ever did. I want it to be, when they walk out the door, everyone knows, that’s Red Cheyenne.

By Glenn Jones

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