Te Ata 1972

Few Oklahomans have garnered as much attention around the world as Native American storyteller Te Ata, recognized for a lifetime of achievement by governors, presidents, kings and her alma mater. She was born Mary Thompson and raised in Tishomingo, the daughter of a treasurer of the Chickasaw tribe, niece of a tribal governor. "Te Ata" is a Chickasaw name that means "bearer of the morning." After her graduation from OCW in 1919, she went to New York and appeared on Broadway in "Trojan Women," among many other productions elsewhere. She continued her education at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, Pa; and studied ethnology at Columbia University in New York. But her unique persona was born when she crafted a one-woman show to illustrate and teach Indian culture. Dressed in buckskin costumes with authentic props, the striking and elegant actress presented well-researched and sensitively interpreted legends, songs and history of Indian tribes. She performed across the United States, Canada and Europe. She was a frequent guest of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt in the White House and performed before King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England. It was in her honor that the Roosevelts named "Lake Te Ata" in upstate New York. In 1933, she married Clyde Fisher, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York. Te Ata was named to the Oklahoma Hall of Fame on Statehood Day 1957. She was named the first "Oklahoma Treasure" in 1987. A selfless supporter of education, she donated all proceeds from her documentary, "God’s Drum," to provide scholarships at USAO. Te Ata was born on Dec. 3, 1895, and died Oct. 26, 1995, just days before her 100th birthday. Her life is the subject of one film and three books. "Art binds all people together," she wrote.

Back to Gallery

--> -->