December 3 – Happy Birthday, Te Ata Fisher

Posted December 3, 2013

For more than 70 years, Te Ata Fisher brought to life the stories and folklore of indigenous peoples to audiences in the U.S. and Europe. 

More than 70 years! No wonder Te Ata was named Oklahoma's first “Official State Treasure” - and no wonder she was inducted into Oklahoma's Hall of Fame!

Te Ata was born on this date in 1895 in the Chickasaw Nation (in what was then called “Indian Territory”). She was born Mary Thompson, a very boring non-Chickasaw-sounding name, huh? “Fisher” is her married surname, and “Te Ata,” which means “Bringer of the Dawn" (or Morning), is the native name she adopted.

Te Ata began to develop her talent for acting in college, and she became a professional actress, performing on Broadway and other places. As you can imagine, she faced difficulties because she was a woman and because she was Chickasaw - and most especially because she was a Chickasaw woman! However, she took what made success difficult - what seemed to be a liability - and turned it into an asset! She began to perform one-person shows in which she shared native legends, myths, chants, and rituals. She wore authentic traditional costumes, and she used tribal drums and rattles, music and dance. Te Ata also wrote some of this folklore in books for children.

And her shows were a hit! Te Ata performed for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the King and Queen of Great Britain; she performed in England and Scandinavia as well as all across America; she taught about a variety of indigenous peoples while entertaining her audiences.

Te Ata died just a few days before her 100th birthday. She received many awards and honors while she was alive and has earned many more since her death in 1995.

Watch these cool videos about Te Ata.

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