42 TRIBES Week 1: Big Chief Darryl Montana

Born in New Orleans, Darryl Montana is Big Chief of the Yellow Pocahontas “Hunters” Black Indigenous Masking Indian Tribe. Montana’s indigenous masking lineage dates back to the 1800s. Montana has been masking from 1964-2017.

Tribe Timeline:

  • From 1945-2005 / Allison “Tootie” Montana / Chief of Yellow Pocahontas Hunters and Monogram Hunters.
  • From 1935-1947 / Alfred Montana / Chief of 8th Ward Hunters.
  • From 1860-1919 / Becate Batiste / Chief of Krewe of Wild West.  

By the age of six Montana began studying, beading, and learning about the Black Masking tradition that has been passed down in his family for generations. Not limited to feathers, stones, beads, sequins, and pearls, Montana’s one of a kind creative suit design always tells a story that unites the community with the traditional elements of this long-lasting masking culture. Montana has received high honors and has exhibited his works of art to audiences worldwide yet he finds the greatest joy in teaching the New Orleans youth since it is a sure way to preserve the indigenous masking culture.

Montana, a local university professor has been teaching elements of this masking culture for many years. From the students in the classroom to the community on the streets Montana believes that a unified New Orleans is a key component to solving some of the most pressing local issues. When asked to share about his priceless contribution to masking culture over the course of almost five decades Montana said, “No one can do it alone; your community keeps you accountable. You’re struggling paying bills and you gotta live but you build your life around this culture. My dad was one who wouldn’t take excuses. It takes sacrifice and pride. It is our duty as a community to uphold and teach our traditions to future generations.”

In 2018 we celebrate the Tricentennial of New Orleans, a 300 year old anniversary and yet another major milestone. Big Chief Darryl Montana is retiring after 48 years of masking and following in the honorable footsteps of his father Big Chief Allison “Tootie” Montana who masked for 50 years. We honor your lifetime of community service to New Orleans and your sincere preservation of Indigenous Black Masking Culture.  


What is one of your most memorable suits and why?
(A) I made a suit where I traced my Mama’s hands inside of a dream catcher. Everybody knows my Dad well but for years my Mama was the driving force that kept this culture thing going in our area.

Describe a difficult time in your life that masking culture helped you get through?
(A) I was incarcerated for three years. While I was gone, I prayed and sang Indian songs in the field every day. I must’ve had a tribe of about 300. If it hadn’t been for this masking culture I don’t know where my mind frame would’ve been because the system was mentally messing with me.

How significant is Indigenous Black Masking Culture to New Orleans?
(A) Whenever the tourists come to this city, they’re gonna promote the jazz bands and the Indians. Indian is key and everything else comes after it. To not have us is like Gumbo without the seasoning.

How does New Orleans Tourism Commission support Indigenous Black Masking Culture?
(A) We don’t get no support. I was fortunate enough to have been working for Xavier for 24 years but not everybody else has such opportunities. This is my 48th year masking. I’ve done one thing with the Tourism Commission and it was post Katrina. They took a street car on an 18-wheeler truck and drove to Chicago. Seven of us went on the trip. They were using us to let the world know that New Orleans is not still under water.

What was your creative response to Hurricane Katrina?
(A) My dad died two months before Katrina so I did a suit in honor of him. There’s a replica of my dad in his last suit coming out of the suit I made that year, so when I walked the streets he was right there with me.

What’s a valuable lesson you’ve learned in 48 years of masking?
(A)The lesson I learned is that it’s not about me it’s about we, about Us.  

Big Chief Darryl Montana is a shining example of determination and focus. Montana’s cultural expressions of art identify with his life experience and long standing Black Masking family lineage in New Orleans. Montana’s great pride in serving New Orleans for over four decades is reflected in the celebration and preservation of Black Masking Culture. The countless hours of sewing and prayer are the common thread that weaves together a robust vibrant culture rich in history and family.

By: Jordan Lorrius

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