Big Chief of the Week #23 Big Chief Kendell “Suge” Trepagnier Black Eagle Tribe

By Glenn Jones

1951 – 1967 Big Chief Lawrence Fletcher
1967 – 1981 Big Chief Percy “P” Lewis
1982 – 2011 Big Chief Gerard “Rardi” Lewis
2012 – present Big Chief Curtis “Suge” Williams

Big Chief Suge has a rich lineage from Big Chief Curtis “Suge” Williams, masking in the 50’s with Golden Blade Big Chief Paul Lonpre, then ultimately Sr. bringing out Cheyenne Hunters in 1970. The Jr. Big Chief Suge, will be bringing out, for his first time, the Black Eagle Tribe. The Bloodline Chief is Michael Lewis, who has been masking under Big Chief Walter of the Creole Wild West. After Big Chief Suge Sr. returned to New Orleans, before he passed, he encouraged Jr. to get back to masking. But Chief became an Executive Chef, spending time in Atlanta and fighting a valiant fight against cancer. As we all know, life can throw challenges at us and knock us off of our true path; but, Chief got an extra boost of inspiration to Mask again. It was his fellow young Chiefs that grew up like him, in this culture since childhood; Big Chiefs such as Big Chiefs Bo Dollis Jr., Big Chief Demond Melancon, Derrick Hillard, Romeo Burgees and Otto (Chief Fiyo). From their words of encouragement, to the high level of artistry they displayed in their suits, Chief said “they’re bringing fire, I’ve got to get back in this.” As a Big Chief he has gone through some changes, so has the Black Eagle Tribe.

As we have been on this journey of the active 42 Tribes Big Chief of the Week, we have touched upon, as well as many chiefs have spoken on, Caucasians Masking in the Black Masking Culture. Well this is the tribe that presently has a Caucasian Queen coming from their deceased second Chief Flynn (Jewish Caucasian masked from mid-70’s – 90’s). He masked through the tenure of well-respected father and son Big Chiefs Percy and Gerard Lewis. As Big Chief Suge is now Chief of the Black Eagle Tribe he has different feelings about Whites Masking in the Black Masking Culture.

As Mardi Gras became more commercialized after the Civil Rights Movement and integration of all Mardi Gras Krewes, the new civil right laws that applied to governmentally registered organizations (all Mardi Gras Krewes and social aid and pleasure clubs) opened their enrollment to all ethnicities. Although Black Masking Culture is not a registered governmental entity and only received the title “Mardi Gras Indian” during the 80’s for tourism purposes, there are some that want this culture to assimilate to the government restriction to control the economics of the culture. Due to that title or misnomer, many insist, push, economically persuade and orchestrate either the infiltration or ethnic replacement of this culture to secure the monetary revenue of tourism and festivals.

In respects to second Chief Flynn, Chief Suge says “he paid his dues” through being assaulted physically by other Indians; to reports of even being hospitalized as a result. And to Flynn’s queen, he extends that respect. As he says the gang has gone through many transitions and she has kept the Black Eagles Tribe’s name on the streets.

Q) What is a Big Chief to you?
A) He is the person you can go to. Its advice its encouragement, my Flag boy tomorrow is a having a baby, it’s a family thing. I don’t call it a gang we are a tribe. We are not an organized crime group, we are a tribe, we are a family. I never liked that term, gang. I don’t have a gang, I have a tribe.

Q) Are you familiar with the process of buying suits from Indians with drug problems and putting Caucasians in them and bringing tourists and having second-lines and White Indians with Blacks playing tambourine behind them?
A) Let me be honest, I have a huge problem with that…You have a lot of people that poke fun at this culture. Those being Anglo-Saxons. I would never join the Zulu Club because I don’t think it’s funny. I just don’t think it’s funny. I’m not putting on black face. If I was to put a black face on, I’m not going to allow somebody of a different origin to put it on next to me. So, when I see these Caucasians doing the things that we do; the second-line, putting on Indian costumes. It bothers me but I’m like yeah you know they done sold out. That’s the end result of it. You got to be careful who you let in your camp. Now somethings that happened before in our tribe, I have no control over it. But as my Chief (deceased Chief Gerard Lewis) has made it clear, I’m an Indian. I’m going to carry out my Chief orders. But that’s not my Queen. To set the record straight. My wife is my Queen.

Q) What are your thoughts on the term Mardi Gras Indian or Black Masking Indians?
A) Well let’s be clear brother, I’m not a Mardi Gras Indian, and I’m not Masking. I’m an Indian. I’m not a Mardi Gras Indian, that’s a term that I would say not even Second-Liners, but some of the patrons that don’t even know too much about this culture gave us those labels. We have a tendency to run with certain with labels that people give us. Terms and handles, that’s the society we live in.

Q) Three-hundred years from now, what do you hope your legacy has created?
A) I want my legacy not only to be my suits, my personality, my love and whatever gifts I can bring to the culture. I hope it will be imitated like my dad. Like Tootie, Rudy, Keitho, Rardi, Lil Walter. I hope that my contribution will be as big as some of theirs.

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New Orleans Agenda The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP) and the Black Women’s Roundtable (BWR), in partnership with Mississippi
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