CHICKASHA, Okla. (AP) - Political leaders, Native American tribal members, scholars and community members gathered Friday to dedicate a statue of a renowned Chickasaw storyteller who broke stereotypes over her six-decade career.
Te Ata Thompson Fisher surpassed the limitations placed on Native Americans and women, Chickasaw NationGov. Bill Anoatubby said at the dedication of the sculpture at the University of Science and Arts.
The statue, one-and-a-half times life size, was created by North Carolina-based artist Jon Hair. It shows Fisher in traditional Native American garb, her hair in braids, as she pounds a drum.
“Te Ata was driven and she was determined, yet always she carried herself with an elegant grace,” Anoatubby said. “She showed immense respect for Native people. She defied all the stereotypes at all levels.”
Fisher attended Oklahoma College for Women - now USAO - before becoming an accomplished actress and teller of Native American stories. She performed in front of President Franklin Roosevelt, for the king and queen of Britain and all over the United States during her 60-year career. Her accomplishments were highlighted when she was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1957 and into the Chickasaw Nation Hall of Fame in 1990. She died in Oklahoma City in 1995 at age 99.
U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., who is Fisher’s great-nephew, said she should be credited with keeping Native American culture and identity alive when it wasn’t always easy to do.
Cole, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, recalled how he turned to Fisher when he was growing up and was told he didn’t “look Indian.”
“I said ‘Aunt Te Ata, how much Indian am I?” And I’ll never forget, she looked at me in the eyes, the nostrils flared, the head came back and she said, “Wrong question, you either are, or you aren’t. And you are!”
Cole also called Fisher a symbol of grace, wisdom and beauty unequaled in her time.
Following the speeches, actress Tana Takes Horse performed as Fisher in an excerpt from a play that debuted at USAO, and family members of Fisher’s blessed the statue in a traditional Native American smudging ceremony.
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