By Glenn Jones
TRIBAL TIMELINE: 2016 – Present Big Chief John Ellison
Culture? Where does it start? Is it a group decision? How does it expand? It seems the answer can be liner for the first three questions. It appears, it starts from one, then followed and evolves as it moves forward. The latter question can be a tangled web. Culture has Culture bearers not admission administrators. There are no written criteria for expanding a culture, or who can, and how they should do so. There is system of Respect, in the form of permission from forefathers (Big Chief) and mothers (Queens). Allow me the liberty to say that, the process works well in theory. In reality, that can get pretty muddy, to say the least. But this culture has its own way of flushing out the spiritually weak. One unwritten rule is, anyone desiring to bring out a gang must have permission from either a select group that speaks on your behalf or to be given the right to by an original culture bearer of that disbanded tribe. Obviously, there are many scenarios that can come out of that. Just for the fact it’s an unwritten rule.
Chief John was given permission to bring out the Original Wild Tchoupitoulas in 2016 by Big Chief Jolly and Big Chief Johnny original Queen Mercedes Stevenson before she passed. Prior to passing Big Queen assisted Big Chief John in getting his gang Chartered. With that said everyone recognizes, credit and respects Big Chief Roderick Sylvas for bringing “Wild Tchoupitoulas” back on the street after it went dormant for many years, in part due to the passing of Big Chief Johnny.
Big Chief John masked with Chief Roderick “Bald Eagle” for ten years as his Wildman and credits Big Chief “Bald Eagle” for the tutelage of how to be a Chief of his own tribe. So yes, that means we have two tribes named Wild Tchoupitoulas separated by the word “original” and by the spirit of the respective Chief. Which can be compared to cell reproduction. In Black masking it’s desire, friction and love. That is how culture expands.
Like the majority of the Big Chiefs, Chief John fell in love with this culture at an early age. His earliest memory was at the age of 8. Watching his uncle Charlie “Pud” Robertson coming down the street and his mother grabbing him. Chief says, “at that time it (second lines/Indians) use to get violent.” “it was people that came to the second lines not the Indians (Black Maskers) themselves.” Even though his mom was trying to protect him, he wanted to stay and watch the beautiful suits and the men in them. He was hit by the spirit at that point and there’s no turning back after that.
This culture is an intricate tapestry rooted in spirit. That has many obstacles in its efforts to preserve itself. One such deterrent rendered Chief emotionally when he spoke on what he called “Culture Vultures”. Chief John stood up abruptly and walked out expressing the feeling of seeing a giant picture of himself right now in the Ogden Museum of Art. No one contacted, consulted or compensated him for the exhibit or in production of the art work. The Museum due to “ethical laws(rule)” cannot divulged the Photographer information. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence in this culture. Under advice Chief and others are copywriting their suits. I advise all to follow suit no pun intended. The aspect that confuses and frustrates many Chiefs is how can they sew and create a yearlong suit, and someone take a picture and now they own their image. The most common response given is “well you are in public”. Obviously, this does not sit well with Big Chief John. Especially when a Gallery owner told Chief John an Original print can range from 5k and above and a print of that can start at $1500. When Chiefs hear that, their first thought is how many feathers that can provide for his tribe. Or how many bills can be paid instead of splitting it with feather purchases.
Al Beit Chief John tenure as a Chief has been short. His participation in this culture has encompassed most of his life. His 9 years of masking as wild man under Big Chief Roderick allowed him to see and meet everyone. As a Chief I asked him what was the difference from the back as the anchor (need a better word??). “one thing is for sure, I see that a Chief isn’t nothing without his tribe.” “Sitting back watching my tribe walk and meet another tribe, I was like wow. Because the spirit was there. It’s my first year and I see it. Seeing it come at me, watching them (his Tribe) handle it. I couldn’t say anything but wow because they are enjoying too. Someone said to me “you Chief now you don’t have to be wild, you need to be cool” and all that, but I still got wild in me.”
Chief says in the next 300 hundred years he wants his tribe to bring in more youth and be an honor to the Chiefs that taught him like Big Chef Jolly, Big Chief Roderick and Big Chief KeKe. Not to mention Big Queen Mercedes proud of blessing to allow him to start the tribe.