Chickasaw Nation Productions’ films highlight importance of First Americans to history during Native American Heritage Month
by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office
Release Date: November 01, 2021
Chickasaw historical figures Montford Johnson and Te Ata featured in films now available to stream
November is National Native American Heritage Month, a time set aside in the United States to pay tribute to the rich culture and history of First Americans.
As a result, events exploring the lives and times of important First American historical figures are a common sight across the nation’s classrooms, libraries and museums.
The Chickasaw Nation Productions’ films “Te Ata” and “Montford: The Chickasaw Rancher” offer similar opportunities to learn about impactful First Americans, from the comfort of home or on the go. Both films are now available to stream.
“Montford: The Chickasaw Rancher” explores the life of historic Chickasaw rancher Montford Johnson, who experienced great hardships and tragedy which he overcame to establish a vast ranching empire along the famous cattle highway of the American West, the Chisholm Trail.
Johnson’s story is a true Western epic, spanning from his birth in 1843, through the tumultuous years of the Civil War and its aftermath, and the Land Rush of 1889.
Inspired by recounts of Johnson’s life and the book “The Chickasaw Rancher,” this story tells of Johnson’s time among settlers, cowboys, tribes, military and bandits.
Few people have had such an impact on ranching as Johnson. He was a warrior, entrepreneur, cattleman and philanthropist. Suffering from chronic illnesses and family trauma throughout his life, this self-made man managed to build a family legacy within Oklahoma that continues to be celebrated.
Armed with determination and dreams of a better life, he had the grit and courage needed to tame what seemed an infinite wilderness, while always maintaining respect for the First Americans who lived there.
The son of an Englishman and a Chickasaw woman, Johnson would befriend Jesse Chisholm, who encouraged him to establish cattle ranches and trading posts to serve fellow First Americans and others living in Indian Territory.
As his ranching empire expanded, Johnson’s perseverance established his legacy. Through conflicts with “Boomers” and cattle rustlers, and numerous personal tragedies, Johnson stood strong. His ranching practices, such as burning fields to control growth and reduce diseases spread by ticks, along with barbed wire fencing, are still used today.
At the height of his ranching operation, Johnson accumulated a herd of more than 35,000 head of cattle which grazed more than a million acres of the newly-created Indian Territory.
Many tribes are represented within the cast of the movie. Martin Sensmeier, who portrays Montford Johnson, is Tlingit and Koyukon-Athabascan. Tatanka Means, who plays Rising Wolf, is an award-winning First American actor from the Oglala Lakota, Omaha and Navajo tribes. Casey Camp-Horinek portrays Granny Vicey and is a Ponca tribal member. Sonia Hoffman is a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes and is cast as Asha, Rising Wolf’s wife. Rebeckah Boykin, a Choctaw model and actress, portrays Johnson’s sister, Adelaide. Eddie Easterling, a Chickasaw citizen, plays Jesse Chisholm. Richard Whitman, Yuchi and Muscogee; Zack Morris, Sac & Fox; and Bella Muncy, Choctaw, also represent First Americans as actors in the film.
Other cast members include Dermot Mulroney, Tommy Flanagan, Grace Montie, James Landry Hébert, Denim Richards, Mackenzie Astin, Caleb Martin, Danny Tracey, Cat Merritt, Randy Mendez-Kestler and Callan Wilson.
“Montford: The Chickasaw Rancher” was directed by Nathan Frankowski and produced by Paul Sirmons.
Most of the film was captured on Oklahoma soil during the spring and summer. Davis, Reagan and Fort Gibson were key filming locations.
It is the third feature film produced by the Chickasaw Nation, joining “Te Ata” and “Pearl” in its effort to tell the story of the Chickasaw people.
Mary Frances “Te Ata” Thompson Fisher
“Te Ata” (pronounced TAY’ AH-TAH) is based on the inspirational, true story of Mary Frances “Te Ata” Thompson Fisher, a woman who traversed cultural barriers to become one of the greatest First American performers of all time.
Born in Indian Territory, and raised on the songs and stories of her Chickasaw culture, Te Ata’s journey to find her true calling led her through isolation, discovery, love and a stage career that culminated in performances for a United States president, European royalty and audiences across the world.
Inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1957 and the Chickasaw Hall of Fame in 1990, Te Ata was awarded the Oklahoma Governor’s Arts Award in 1975 and declared Oklahoma’s first “State Treasure” in 1987.
With a career as an entertainer and storyteller that spanned six decades, Te Ata earned international fame presenting a unique one-woman show of First American heritage and culture.
Te Ata first learned of the beauty and wisdom of First American culture from her father, Thomas, who told her a variety of Indian stories and her mother, Bertie, who taught her about useful and medicinal plants.
She attended Bloomfield Academy and graduated from Tishomingo High School. While it was unusual at that time for a woman to attend college, Te Ata gained support from her mother to attend the Oklahoma College for Women (OCW) in Chickasha.
Francis Dinsmore Davis, a drama and expression teacher at OCW, recognized Te Ata’s talent and encouraged her to strive for a career in the theater. After earning her degree in drama, Te Ata continued her training at the prestigious Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Te Ata later moved to New York, where she appeared in several Broadway productions. Upon first arriving in New York, Te Ata stayed at the Three Arts Club, a boarding house for aspiring actresses.
It was there she first met Eleanor Roosevelt, who was one of the wealthy “housemothers” who engaged the actresses for private performances at their homes. Many of Te Ata’s performances in the early 1930s were in summer camps for inner-city children.
Te Ata became famous for telling the stories of First American tribes, not limited to her own Chickasaw stories. As her popularity grew and her performances became more frequent, other tribes sought her out to tell the stories of their heritage. Te Ata embraced them all.
The film “Te Ata” shares her story of breaking cultural barriers and changing public perception during a storied career that spanned from the 1920s through the 1980s.
The Chickasaw Nation Productions’ movie was filmed entirely in Oklahoma in 2014. Directed by Nathan Frankowski and produced by Paul Sirmons, several award-winning First American actors help bring the story based on Te Ata’s life to the silver screen.
Q’orianka Kilcher portrays Te Ata, and Gil Birmingham is cast as Te Ata’s father, Thomas Benjamin (T.B.) Thompson. Oscar-nominee Graham Greene plays Chickasaw Nation Governor Douglas H. Johnston.
About Chickasaw Nation Productions
Chickasaw Nation Productions was established in 2009 as a result of Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby’s vision to utilize film production to preserve the stories of the Chickasaw people.
The goal of Chickasaw Nation Productions is to educate audiences by producing feature films and documentaries with accurate, positive portrayals of Chickasaw people, history and culture.
Each film illustrates how Chickasaw culture played an important role in the lives of the individuals and events portrayed in the films, and how those individuals and events influenced the world around them.
For more information about Chickasaw Nation Productions, visit ChickasawFilms.com.
“Montford: The Chickasaw Rancher” and “Te Ata” are now available to stream on Netflix.