Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73105
For Immediate Release: February 8, 2010
Chickasaw Gov. Bill Anoatubby talks to the Senate about Chickasaw
and Oklahoma treasure Te Ata
alongside her great nephew Congressman Tom Cole and former State
Sen. Charles Ford.
Congressman Tom Cole reminisces about his great aunt Te Ata.
Portrait of Te Ata Given in Memory of Senator
As a State Senator, the late Helen Cole often shared stories about
her famous Aunt, Chickasaw storyteller, Te Ata. On Monday, a portrait
of Te Ata was dedicated to Cole's memory during a ceremony in the
Te Ata, also known as Mary Frances Thompson Fisher, was born in
the Chickasaw Nation near Tishomingo in 1895 and achieved national
and international acclaim as a storyteller, helping preserve tales
from her own Chickasaw tribe as well as other Native stories. She
was recognized by the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1958, and in 1987,
Te Ata was named Oklahoma’s first Cultural Treasure by Gov.
Henry Bellmon and the Oklahoma Arts Council. She died in 1995, just
a few days before her 100th birthday.
The portrait is the latest project by the Oklahoma State Senate
Historical Preservation Fund, Inc., headed by former Sen. Charles
Ford, and was sponsored by Helen's son, Congressman Tom Cole, and
by the Chickasaw Nation. Cole, a former State Senator, noted his
mother was the first Native American woman elected to the Oklahoma
"This would probably be the proudest moment of her life; it
really would," said Cole. "Te Ata was the dominant influence
in my mother's life. Te Ata showed Mother how challenges could be
overcome--you had to work hard, you had to prepare and handle yourself
professionally, and if you did, the sky was the limit. Te Ata instilled
those things in my mother, and helped keep our Native culture alive."
Chickasaw Gov. Bill Anoatubby said the ceremony marked a special
day, not only for the State of Oklahoma, but for the Chickasaw Nation
as well. He explained the name Te Ata, meant "Bearer of the
Dawn," which Bill Anoatubby said was especially appropriate,
considering the attention she brought to Native culture.
"Te Ata was a cultural icon for the Chickasaw people, and not
only the Chickasaw people but for other Native Americans. During
her career she actually shined a light on Chickasaw culture and
on Native American culture throughout the United States and basically
throughout the world," Anoatubby said.
The portrait was actually an existing work, created by Nellie Ellen
Shepherd, one of Oklahoma's earliest professional woman artists.
In 1917, she was appointed director of the art department at the
Oklahoma College for Women in Chickasha, now known as the University
of Science and Arts of Oklahoma. Her portrait of Te Ata was created
less than one year before her death in 1920.
Ford said following Monday's ceremony, the painting would be removed
for restorative cleaning, then placed on permanent display on the
second floor of the State Capitol.
To learn more about the Oklahoma State Senate Historical Preservation
Fund, Inc., and other works that have been commissioned by the organization,
go to www.oksenate.gov.
For more information contact:
Senate Communications: 405-521-5774