By Jamie Saxon, Princeton Office of Communications, and Morgan Kelly, Princeton Environmental Institute

In a panel discussion held April 3 at Princeton University, two “big chiefs” of New Orleans’ Black Masking Indian groups explored the complex artistry and deep-seated community of the Black Masking tradition.

Chief Demond Melancon of the Young Seminole Hunters and Big Chief Darryl Montana of the Yellow Pocahontas Hunters are leaders of two of these groups, known popularly as Mardi Gras Indians. Referred to as “tribes,” the groups organize by neighborhood and perform during Mardi Gras (or Carnival) and other celebratory occasions wearing these intricately beaded and decorated suits. This process of creating elaborate ceremonial suits and aprons originated by African Americans almost 200 years ago to pay homage to American Indians and tell visual stories of hardship and redemption.

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Tribal Timeline: Golden Blades
1936 – 1944’s Big Chief Ben Clark
1945 – 1947 – Big Chief Leon “Happy Peanut” Robinson
1948 – 1949 – Big Chief Robert Nathaniel “Robbe” Lee
1949 – 1950 – Big Chief Leon “Happy Peanut” Robinson
1950 – 1970 – Big Chief Paul Longpre
1999 – present – Big Chief Derrick “Golden Blade” Hulin

“When that machete hit that flag, all butterflies, all the nervousness, all that went out the door! Cause at that point I knew it was serious business. Continue reading →

Coming home to the culture:

Although this was the first year Black Flame Hunters has hit the streets, their Chief is a Wiley Vet. Growing up, uptown at the age of six he and his friends started imitating the Wild Magnolias and Creole Wild West, Big Chief Jeremy “Black” was destined to have his own tribe. Playing Football successfully all the way to college pulled him away from his first love. Coming home, he started masking with Jeronimo Hunters and Big Chief Tom Landry for fourteen years where he honed his skills and love for this culture. Continue reading →

By Edwin Buggage

New Orleans: The Most African City in America

New Orleans is rich with traditions. and today is celebrating its 300-Year Anniversary. Every year, people from around the world come to experience the enviable and unmatched splendor of this City, a cultural jewel that shines around the globe. This gem has given the world jazz, great cuisine, brass bands, the second-line, the Black Masking Tradition (Mardi Gras Indians) and bears so many other unique traditions that make it, unlike any other place. Continue reading →


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. Continue reading →

By Glenn Jones February 22nd, 2018, history was made. For the first time in New Orleans’ higher learning history, a Black Masking Cultural art exhibition was held. Delgado Community College will not only be written in the history books as the first forward-thinking institution in New Orleans to hold a Black Masking art exhibition and lecture series but also as the first college to facilitate the bond between NOLA scholars, Black Masking Culture, and 3D Technology. Weeks prior to the opening of the exhibition, Delgado opened the Chevron FabLab to 25 middle school scholars from St. Mary’s who learned the basics of 3D design from FabLabPro Sam Provenza and went on a Black Masking cultural exploration with lead curator Glenn Jones from B-Nola. The students delved into the significance of their local native traditions and discussed ways in which to leverage 3D technology and create products that youth in New Orleans identify with. The end result of that creative powwow was a 3D collector’s edition figurine of Big Chief Shaka Zulu of the Golden Feather Tribe. New Orleans natives of all ages gathered in awe. Stay tuned for the Black Masking podcast hosted by St. Mary’s School scholars with the gift of journalism.