The youngest masking Mardi Gras Indian Big Chief navigates life as COVID-19 shuts down the Masking Indian culture.
Terrance Williams Jr. aka Big Chief Tee is the Big Chief of The Black Hawk Hunters, a Mardi Gras Indian Tribe that carries on the Mardi Gras Masking Indian tradition. Every year, Big Chief Tee and his tribe create elaborate and beautiful suits, preparing to parade every Mardi Gras morning. It’s already a daunting task, but Terrance succeeds while also being a 10th grader at Isidore Newman High School, as well as an athlete and a band member. This documentary gives us a peek into Terrance’s life, following him as he continues to carry the torch of tradition in the midst of a deadly pandemic and civil unrest due to the killing of black males. In order to explore exactly how Terrance is carrying the torch, Big Chief, Black hawk also explores the some of the history of the Mardi Gras Masking Indian culture, the relationships between Native Americans and African Americans in and around New Orleans, and the changing demographics of New Orleans. Big Chief, Black Hawk provides a cohesive look into why tradition and culture is so important to the African American community in New Orleans today. Through interviews and storytelling, we look into the past to introduce you to the future, displaying how the past has been passed onto the present.
The Masking Mardi Gras Indian culture has many origin stories...
Some say that African Americans masking as Native Americans began as homage to Native Americans giving refuge to escaped slaves to others saying that it was began as an offshoot of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and Buffalo Soldiers exposure to Native Americans during America’s westward campaign. Others believe that the traditions are of African origin, and that the "suits" and chants originate from Congo Square, and masking is just a passing on of African traditions "masked" to protect tradition. What we do know is that from the time that America decided to become a nation and to expand from the Atlantic to the Pacific, Native Americans were killed and moved from their land while Africans were imported to build this nation. In New Orleans, the fears of the African American community are similar to those of Native Americans… that over time, the culture of the city will slowly disappear, and what’s left will be monetized.
New Orleans is losing it's African American base.
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2018 population estimates, African Americans in New Orleans are more educated, but are looking for employment elsewhere. In a report by The Data Center, in 2017 there were 91,274 fewer African Americans living in New Orleans than there were in 2000. By comparison, there were only 7,945 fewer whites. In 2000, African Americans made up 67% of the city’s population. In 2017, that percentage, while still the majority, was only 59%. In contrast, the share of whites increased from 27% to 31%. While still higher than the national average, the share of adults 25 and older who had less than a high school degree fell from 25% to 14%. At the same time, the share of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher rose from 23 to 30%. But the incomes haven’t changed, especially in Orleans Parish. Housing isn’t affordable, and the city is becoming more segregated. Neighborhoods like the Bywarter, Treme, St. Roch, and St. Claude are being gentrified, and NOLA is losing her culture.
To discover more, https://www.datacenterresearch.org/