1984 – 1993 – Big Chief Joe Pete Seminoles
1994 – Present – Big Chief Keith “Keitoe” Jones
Chief Keitoe has traveled a long road to get to this point in life as a man, as a Big Chief and as a leader in this culture. As chief will tell you, in his journey he has come across a lot of haters. I’m talking the type of haters that transform from decade-to-decade assisting in the overall iron sharpening iron trials and tribulations one goes through to reach their ultimate goal in life. The unique aspect of Big Chief Kietoe is his resilience. Chief has lost tribal chiefs that have resulted in tribes disbanding.
They are Chiefs spirts that are so strong they have held tribes of 40 or more men and woman together when that chief dies the tribe dies. As New Orleanais, we are exposed to a lot of death, but I argue not many have had so many deaths that directly affect the practice of their culture. In a way where it pulls you away, pulls you down and takes your energy. It takes a certain type of individual to lose wife, mother, brother, and more than a few mentors and Big Chiefs and still keep going. Every time he masked he is reminded and empowered by them all at the same time! Big Chief Keitoe has been honored many of times but being honored by your peers is something everyone is humbled by. For all the work and hardship endured to sharpen his iron in order for Chief to produce the Black Masking suits of such intricate beading design and leadership Chief will (has) receive the Crystal Feather Award. An honor well-deserved. Hopefully this article gives a little insight on the Chief and his road to glory.
Q) When did you start masking?
A) I was 14 years old in the early 70’s, I masked as a spy boy for the 9th Ward Hunters under Big Chief Rudy.
Q) Who gave you your style of beading?
A) I really got my particular style from an Old Chief, 2nd Chief of the White Eagles. His name Felton Brown he used to live in the Desire Project. I was going to Carver School than, he taught me the technique of the flat bead work using tens. They are small seed beads. A lot of guys like to use eights which is a bigger bead it helps you get finished faster. But me I like to use tens and elevens because I like to detail my work.
Q) Chief I see your bead work is so detailed and outlined. How do you achieve this?
A) Small Beads a lot of color because that’s what the streets is looking for, the people looking for something to see. I’m always trying to bring a new look to the streets. When you see me, you gonna see that work. I’m always bringing something to the table for you to see.
Q) What award are you receiving this year?
A) I’m bout to receive the Crystal Feather Award which will induct me into the Mardi Gras Indian Hall of Fame. Crystal Feather Awards is one of these prestigious awards that all the chiefs get together and vote for you. It’s the Chiefs in New Orleans that pick the next Chief out to be honored for the award…and bruh I’ve been waiting so long! I just can’t understand how they took so long. They skipped over me, and I’m the baddest Big Chief in New Orleans other than Tootle Montana son Daryl. Like I’m said they got them hater but I just stayed humble and I’m still humble. I feel good about it, it let me know I’ve gotten somewhere. I’ve been somewhere and I’ve gotten somewhere. It’s a good thing for me to receive that wonderful award and put up with the rest of my regalia. I’m gonna suit up and gonna go up there grateful and humble and just enjoy myself. It’s a long time coming.
Q) Why do you keep this culture and tradition going?
A) It was introduced to me as a child but I think it’s in my blood. I kept it going more so cause of my brother Dick. My brother introduced me to this game. Than my brother got slain in 1989 on the other hand my Dad died in the same year. My brother got killed in October my father died of a massive heart attack in December. Then all my brothers and sisters used to mask but they got out of it and I just kept it going. When I thought about some of the things that were said in the street and thought about how they drug my brother name and my name through the mud, well imma keep this thing going! To show them that Dick might be gone but imma keep the gang living for me and my family. Imma show yawl, ain’t none of yawl badder than me. And they not!
Q) How do you feel about Caucasians trying to mask in this Black Masking Culture?
A) As far as White people masking in our culture, some people let them do that. That’s not supposed to happen bro because already we have a problem with them snapping our pictures us, going overseas selling our work.
Q) How does your tribe give back?
A) My ex-wife (deceased) and I did a lot of stuff. Food to the homeless and hygiene bags. My (ex) wife had an organization called “Mothers and Fathers of a broken puzzle” and we gave back a lot to the community to the City also when I had my hall on Claiborne and Frenchmen. Still to this day if anybody need anything from me they can come to me, I’m humble, I’m peaceful.