Lake Texoma

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Te Ata: Bearer of the Morning

by
Lumini Services
Kendall Davis is well-versed in the English language. She has 20 years experience as a published author and writing for clients. Her published works include historical articles in museums, magazines, newspaper articles, columns, content marketing, advertising copy, blogging, and academic papers. Kendall also makes her way in the literary world as a copyeditor. Writing about history is her first love interest. If you have editing or content needs on your website or for your books, articles, blogs, or columns, please visit her website to see details and more examples of her work, the services she offers, and contact information. http://kdavis1836.wixsite.com/luminiwrites




In the Beginning: Cultural and Political Climate


Mary Frances Thompson Fisher (1895-1995) became a famous dramatic actress, dancer, and storyteller known as “Te Ata”. She was born in Emet, Oklahoma, where the historic Chickasaw White House stands today close to the Tishomingo National Wildlife Refuge. Numerous Native American historical events took place in Emet. Thomas Benjamin Thompson, her father, served as the last treasurer of the Chickasaw Nation. Douglas H. Johnston, her uncle, served as governor of the Chickasaw Nation for 30 years.


The Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 required that Native Americans accept individual possession of a portion of tribal lands, but that act did not affect the Five Civilized Tribes. Nor were the five tribes willing to accept the terms of any land allotment act. Two years after Te Ata was born, the Dawes Commission met in Emet to end tribal land ownership of the Five Civilized Tribes: Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole.


The Curtis Act of 1898 finally forced those five tribes to accept allotments of land. Governor Johnston continually and tirelessly worked to maintain tribal control over Chickasaw schools and eventually sued the U.S. government over illegally acquired tribal resources. Te Ata's father worked with tribe members to enroll them in land allotment applications from 1898 until 1907, the year that the U.S. closed the allotment rolls. This was the cultural climate of Te Ata’s childhood. (1, 2, 3)


Education


Te Ata first attended Bloomfield Academy, a Chickasaw school founded in 1852. After Bloomfield, she encountered white children for the first time at high school in Tishomingo. Te Ata found a role model in teacher Muriel Wright in Tishomingo. Te Ata discovered her talent for drama at the Oklahoma College for Women in Chickasha. * Frances Densmore Davis, researcher and writer on Indian cultures, became her mentor there. (3)


Through Frances’s encouragement, Te Ata debuted as an artist performing songs and stories from different tribes in her senior college year. Te Ata became the first Native American woman to earn a theatre degree at the Oklahoma College for Women. (4) She found success; the University of Oklahoma and other institutions invited her to perform. Thurlow Lieurance sat in the audience at her last senior performance. Thurlow, an American composer, is best-known for his song “By the Waters of Minnetonka” and as a member of the American music Indianist movement.


Thurlow operated a traveling performance troupe called the Chautauqua Circuit and signed Te Ata to perform in it. Te Ata perfected her techniques in song, dance, and storytelling through this period. She moved to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and undertook further training at the Carnegie Institute of Technology for one year. Next, came the Broadway stage in New York City where Te Ata was known for her role as Andromache in The Trojan Women written by Euripides in 415 B.C.E.


Marriage and Career


In New York, Te Ata met and married her husband, Dr. George Clyde Fisher. Dr. Fisher began his diversified career at the American Museum of Natural History as assistant curator in the department of public education. Throughout his life’s work, he strove to popularize natural history. He specialized in the fields of astronomy, botany, zoology, and exploration. Dr. Fisher was passionate about the languages and customs of North American Indians which led him to meet Te Ata. They married on September 28, 1933, at Bacone College’s Ataloa Lodge in Muskogee, Oklahoma. ** 


After Broadway, Te Ata focused on performing a one-woman show featuring her Native American roots by telling stories using tribal drums, rattles, music, and dance. During the 1930s, she entertained east coast socialites and performed in New York and New England summer camps. In 1939, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt invited her to perform for their guests, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England, who in turn asked her to perform in England.


World Tours


From England, Te Ata toured Europe performing for royals and heads of state. The Fishers trekked extensively across South America and the U.S. to discover Native Indian traditions. Te Ata incorporated what they learned into her storytelling and dance performances. (3)


Te Ata’s career extended for over 60 years. It began during a time of immense discrimination against American Indians and she became an unforeseen civil rights representative. Chickasaw Governor Bill Anoatubby honored Te Ata with these statements:


“Te Ata brought the beauty and wisdom of American Indian culture to the world in a way that helped develop a greater appreciation for core values such as basic human kindness and respect for the natural world. Her life’s work helped bring diverse cultures closer together. She is a shining example of how artistic expression can change hearts and minds.” (4)


Te Ata died on October 26, 1995, in Oklahoma City. Her family cremated her and spread her ashes over Pennington Creek in Johnston County just north of Lake Texoma. The Chickasaw Nation recognizes Pennington Creek as the end of the Trail of Tears for their tribe. She came from a large family with six siblings and one half-sibling.


Recognitions, Honors, and Awards



  • 1924: Featured in McCall’s magazine’s “Types of American Beauty” series

  • 1958: Inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame

  • 1976: The Ladies’ Home Journal Woman of the Year

  • 1987: Recognized by the Oklahoma Hall of Fame

  • 1987: Oklahoma's Official State Treasurer

  • 1990: Inducted into the Chickasaw Hall of Fame

  • 2000: Written by award-winning Chickasaw playwright, JudyLee Oliva, Te Ata earned the Five Civilized Tribes’ Best American Indian Musical.

  • 2010: Portrait was unveiled Feb. 8 at the Oklahoma State Capitol

  • 2012: The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, together with the Chickasaw Nation and Oklahoma City University, presented Te Ata, a play based on her life.

  • 2014: President John Feaver, US Congressman Tom Cole and Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby preside over the official dedication ceremony of the statue of Te Ata Fisher in the Oval on the campus of the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma.

  • Became the first person to be declared an “Oklahoma Treasure”.

  • Te Ata Exhibit at Chickasaw Cultural Center

  • Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt named Lake Te Ata in her honor in upstate New York near Brooks Mountain and Blackcap Mountain.

  • Oklahoma U.S. Representative Tom Cole said Te Ata was an inspiration for his late mother, Helen Te Ata, the first Native American woman elected to the Oklahoma State Senate.***


Productions and Books


The children’s book told by Te Ata entitled Baby Rattlesnake is an example of how she transformed her Chickasaw roots into oral traditions of Native American stories.


God’s Drum Video


This video produced by Weststar Communications in 1995 features Te Ata in a preserved format of her performances as a storyteller. It is available at several libraries found on this website:


https://www.worldcat.org/title/gods-drum-featuring-te-ata/oclc/58834678.


Amazon lists it, but it is out of stock.


The proceeds from God’s Drum support the Te Ata Scholarship Fund for Indian students at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma (formerly Oklahoma College for Women) in Chickasha, Oklahoma.


Movie Te Ata


http://www.teatathemovie.com/About/Learn-More.aspx


DVD Te Ata


Te Ata with actors with Qorianka Kilcher and Gil Birmingham. Director: Nathan Frankowski.


Books


Te Ata: Chickasaw Storyteller - American Treasure: Collector's Edition by Richard Green


Te Ata: Oklahoma Cultural Treasure by Pati Hailey ****


Baby Rattlesnake Story



Notations


* Now the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma


** the Bacone College Ataloa Lodge is named for Chickasaw vocalist and Te Ata”s friend Ataloa.


***I am sure that I have not found all of the honors given to and productions about or by Te Ata.


****Te Ata is the subject of more books in other languages


Sources


1. https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entryname=DAWES%20COMMISSION


2. https://www.chickasaw.tv/profiles/governor-douglas-h-johnston-profile


3. https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=TE001


4. https://www.si.edu/newsdesk/releases/who-te-ata-chickasaw-nation-and-national-museum-american-indian-celebrate-life-native-story


Pictures


1. Te Ata


2. Te Ata-University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma


3. Te Ata Statue in the Oval on the campus of the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma.


4. Statue Close-up


5. Lake Te Ata


6, Dr. Clyde Fisher


7. Clyde and Te Ata


8. Te Ata Performance Still


9. Painting in the Oklahoma State Capitol Art Collection


10. 1957 Oklahoma Hall of Fame


 


 




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Water stained; 54–57 degrees; 3.70’ low. Black bass are slow on shallow crankbaits, shakeyhead worms and spinnerbaits. Crappie are good on minnows and jigs. Striped bass are fair on slabs. Catfish are good on trotlines.