Joseph “Big Chief Monk” Boudreaux
On September 30, 2016, at age 74, Joseph “Big Chief Monk” Boudreaux took the stage before an international audience in Washington D.C and told of Mardi Gras Indian traditions and how they’ve evolved to meet today’s world. The event was put on by the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA had just given Monk a National Heritage Fellowship. He performed with his band and took questions about the Mardi Gras Indians of his youth and how he was ensuring the survival of the culture by passing the traditions down to the next generations.
Monk learned the Mardi Gras Indian traditions from his father and, as he likes to say, the older people. First he learned the Indian songs, then how to sew. He masked for the first time at age 12 and he has been an active part of the tradition ever since. But Monk believes in engaging children into this culture at an even earlier age – as young as one year old.
Teaching kids to create and sew Indian suits gives Monk time to connect with those kids — valuable moments to share wisdom gained over not only his lifetime but also the lifetimes of those who came before. Monk has seen a lot in his 76 years. He grew up in a rough part of town through rough times. Younger generations see Monk’s experience as his credibility. Now a recognized, international icon he uses his influence to help steer today’s youth onto safer paths toward brighter futures than they might otherwise face.
Monk is a musician. He’s an artist. He’s a community leader. But perhaps most importantly, as Big Chief of the Golden Eagles, Monk is now one of the older people, like those he learned from, protecting a tradition by sharing wisdom gained through life experience.
Joseph “Big Chief Monk” Boudreaux … Peoples Health Champion