Mary "Te Ata" Thompson Fisher
1895 - 1995
Te Ata Thompson Fisher, whose name means “Bearer of the Morning,” was born Dec. 3, 1895, near Emet, Oklahoma. A citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, Te Ata was an accomplished actor and teller of Native American stories.
She received her early education in Tishomingo, and eventually went to the Oklahoma College for Women. While there, it was evident Te Ata had a natural talent for drama.
Her career as an actor and storyteller spanned more than 60 years. She worked as a storyteller to finance her acting career. She would tell Chickasaw legends, myths and chants, including performing rituals in native regalia.
Te Ata attended the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for one year. From there, she moved to New York City, where she met and married Clyde Fisher. During the 1930s she performed at summer camps in New York and New England.
In the prime of her career, she performed in England and Scandinavia, at the White House for President Franklin Roosevelt, for the King and Queen of Great Britain, and on stages across the United States.
Although Te Ata worked as an actor and drama instructor, she is best known for her artistic interpretations of Indian folklore, and for her children's book she co-authored on the subject.
Her world-renown talent has won her several honors including induction into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1957, being named The Ladies’ Home Journal Woman of the Year in 1976, being named Oklahoma's Official State Treasure in 1987, and having a lake near Bear Mountain in New York named in her honor.
She is also the subject of a video, God's Drum, the proceeds of which have supported the Te Ata Scholarship Fund for Indian students at her alma mater, the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha, Oklahoma.
Te Ata died Oct. 26, 1995, in Oklahoma City, though her legacy and influence on the Native American storytelling traditions continues to this day.