Bridging The Cultural Divide Throughout the Generations
by Dana Lance, Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office
Release Date: March 23, 2018
The lives of two Chickasaw women may be separated by 84 years but their mission is identical – bridge America’s cultural divide.
One wore buckskin and moccasins; the other wears sequins and a tiara.
Mary Thompson Fisher, better known by her stage name “Te Ata,” dedicated her life’s work to sharing Native American customs and heritage throughout the world beginning in the early 20th century.
Triana Browne, 2017 Miss Oklahoma, is emulating Te Ata’s journey during her reign. Through her platform, “Bridging the Great Cultural Divide,” Miss Browne shares Chickasaw culture and heritage with fellow Oklahomans and throughout the United States.
While competing for the title of Miss America last fall, Miss Browne seized on the opportunity to share her Native culture with a new audience.
She wore an ensemble created by several elite Native American artists during the traditional Miss America “Show Us Your Shoes” parade, conducted along the boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in September.
Browne recalled the parade as “one of the most memorable experiences within the Miss America competition weeks.”
“It was really emotional for me. This is the first time a Miss Oklahoma was able to represent a huge part of what Oklahoma is.”
Contestants typically wear ensembles representing an aspect of their home state, such as a state flower or a school.
She said that being able to represent such an important part of who she is in front of 100,000 people was an “overwhelming feeling.”
“I was shedding a few tears because my platform, “Bridging The Great Cultural Divide,” is all about talking about culture and getting people to want to ask questions.”
“(During the parade) people were coming up to me saying, ‘who do you represent’ and ‘what is this representing’ and I was able to talk about the Chickasaw Nation.”
“My platform was being laid out right then and there. It was everything I ever dreamed of.”
Miss Browne said more than 100,000 people watched the New Jersey parade, and her message and photos were shared nationwide through social media.
Chickasaw citizens who live throughout the United States would share positive comments such as ‘this is amazing’ or share thoughts about the contemporary view of the ensemble, or “Miss Oklahoma representing something that is bigger than herself.”
Te Ata’s Legacy
Much like Te Ata, Miss Browne spends time at schools telling the Chickasaw story, sometimes speaking to as many as 1,000 students in one day.
“That’s 1,000 children I am talking to about the Chickasaw Nation or sharing my parade outfit. Once they see all the glamour of the outfit they start asking questions like ‘Wow – what does this mean?”
Te Ata spent her 60-plus-year career educating while entertaining audiences around the globe about Native American culture. Royalty, heads of state and presidents, as well as students, were among her audience.
Born in 1895, Thompson adopted the stage name “Te Ata” as she chased her dream of Broadway. Overcoming cultural barriers, she discovered fulfillment by embracing her true identity.
She presented a unique one woman show of American Indian heritage and culture to audiences across the United States, Canada and Europe, at a time when Native American culture was being actively suppressed by the federal government.
One indication of the influential nature of her performances is the fact that Te Ata performed at the first State Dinner of Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency April 22, 1933. As a close friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, Te Ata was a guest at the dinner honoring British Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald. After dinner, Te Ata changed from her evening gown into a white buckskin dress for the performance.
This was a significant highlight of a career which earned the Chickasaw performer international fame.
“It’s amazing to see how similar we think about making a difference. Because if you really think about it, she is about cultural compassion,” Miss Browne said of Te Ata. “By educating others you bring people together.”
“I am really honored to be compared with someone who is an inspiration to all people. She is someone I look toward because she is an inspiration.”
“By looking at Te Ata and seeing her life story, and seeing everything she went through and how she turned it all around and used it as a way to really make a big impact on Oklahoma and the Nation.”
“It’s something I really strive to be like. I hope that I am on the same track with my platform Bridging the Great Cultural Divide. That is exactly what I want to do.”
Te Ata’s Story Now Available on DVD
Chickasaw Productions’ critically acclaimed “TE ATA,” is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Based on the inspiring true story of her life, the film focuses on the early career of the famed Chickasaw storyteller.
“TE ATA” won the Best Picture and Audience Choice - Feature awards at the Orlando Film Festival, Audience Choice - Best Drama at Gallup Film Festival, and Audience Choice Award - Narrative Feature at Heartland Film Festival, among other film festival honors.
Special Features included on the “TE ATA” DVD and Blu-ray release include: Behind-the-scenes footage, "Toward the Rising Sun" music video and the original trailer.
For more information visit TeAtaMovie.com.
A documentary based on Te Ata’s life, “Bearer of the Morning- The Life of Te Ata Thompson Fisher,” is now available on DVD.