Oklahoma State Senate
Communications Division
State Capitol
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73105

For Immediate Release: February 8, 2010

Portrait of Te Ata Given in Memory of Senator Helen Cole

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 State Senate.

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 State Senate.

"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