Best of the Beat
Positive Vibrations HeartBeat Award (Culture Bearer)
Clarence Dalcour, 71, is a soft-spoken man who as Big Chief Delco of the Creole Osceola displays old time Black Indian ways that he acquired through listening and observing the elder chiefs.
Chief Delco, whose nickname refers to the Delco battery, became interested in the Indians through his father and uncle who would follow the Yellow Pocahontas gang led by Big Chief Allison “Tootie” Montana. When Dalcour was growing up in Vascoville [in Gentilly] there was only one Mardi Gras Indian in the area, the now-notorious Wildman Rock who roamed dump sites in search of items for his suit. “I remember him from when I was a little boy,” says Dalcour. “He used to walk with a cane and he was wild!” Since Dalcour’s grandmother lived across the street from Montanas’ North Villere Street home, they headed there on Carnival day.
When Dalcour returned to New Orleans in 1969 after serving in the military in the Vietnam War, he asked Chief Tootie Montana if he could join the Yellow Pocahontas. “It was something to do, something to keep my mind off of what I was going through—it was calming and peaceful.”
“I learned a lot from my tribe—I used to talk to Tootie a lot and to Hatchet Blazio [Ray “Big Chief Hatchet” Blazio] and just all the people. Tootie made me a trail chief and kept me close to him. Only a big chief gives you that important position.”
Dalcour remained with Big Chief Tootie for several years though while in the midst of making a suit, a skill he learned on his own, he realized that it just didn’t look like those of the Yellow Pocahontas. “It was my [personal] style,” says Dalcour who decided to form his own gang, the Creole Osceola that would become his neighborhood’s first Mardi Gras Indian tribe.
“I wanted an Indian name so I took the name of Chief Osceola, who was a Seminole chief [in Florida],” Dalcour explains. “What impressed me is that he married a slave woman and a lot of the Indians that ran with him were runaway slaves. The ‘Creole’ comes from my area, Vascoville—the 7th Ward.”
“I do it for the community,” says Big Chief Delco of his continued desire to mask Indian. He explains that his “community” includes the three villages of Gentilly–Vascoville, Sugar Hill and Pilotland. “My community is a family community, so everybody knows each other and they love knowing each other. Now there is a tribe there for Carnival.” The Creole Osceola still come out from Dalcour’s house on Mardi Gras day to first travel through the neighborhood. “That’s where you came from so you don’t forget it.”
Passing on his knowledge to younger Indians is important to Dalcour and he often engages them in conversation. “I love them because they’re sewing,” says the chief adding, “but you have to have a meaning behind what you’re sewing. If you want to do this, you want to do it right. You teach things the right way because they’re coming into an unusual culture. When I see young Indians no matter what tribe they’re in, I talk to them and tell them different things about the culture. They’re the same as I am. They’re in it for their communities and they want to play the game. We are not real Indians; the thing about us is that we play Indian. So you have to know how to play it.”
Dalcour also respects the great knowledge held by the loyal followers of the Black Indians. “You have some guys who have never put on a feather in their life who can teach you more about Mardi Gras Indians than Mardi Gras Indians,” he says.
In 2011, Dalcour received the Mardi Gras Indian Hall of Fame’s Peace Chief award not only for his decades of masking Indian and sharing his wisdom, but also in recognition of his ceremonial release of rock doves—homing birds that return to their loft—to promote peace within the Indian Nation and throughout the city. He performs this moving rite to honor those who have passed as well as at wedding celebrations and various Indian gatherings.
“It comes from my heart,” says the chief who has been raising rock doves since he was in his 20s. This activity was inspired by the Yellowjacket’s Big Chief Thomas Sparks, another elder who taught Dalcour old-time Indian traditions. “To me, Mardi Gras Indians mean a whole lot when it comes down to peace. In learning this culture you have to know how to speak to each other, to relate to each other.”
Some people might find it contradictory that Chief Delco, a peace-loving man, often uses the word gang, which many people equate with thugs, when talking about the Creole Osceola. “‘Gang’ originated because a lot of the guys masking Indian labored on the riverfront. The groups who worked in certain areas with specific tasks were known as work gangs,” Dalcour explains of the word’s historic use in the Black Indian Nation.
“I studied the chiefs that are gone away,” says the always distinguished Big Chief Delco. “That’s what I had to do for the culture.”