Q'orianka Kilcher portrays Chickasaw performer and historical figure in film ‘Te Ata’
by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office
Release Date: December 16, 2021
Mary Frances “Te Ata” Thompson Fisher embraced her culture and heritage as she traversed cultural barriers and became one of the greatest First American performers of all time.
To tell her story on film, Chickasaw Nation Productions needed someone who embodied many of the same talents and characteristics as the Chickasaw entertainer. Q'orianka Kilcher was a natural fit for “Bearer of the Morning.”
At the age of 14, Kilcher portrayed Pocahontas opposite Colin Farrell and Christian Bale in Terrence Malick’s Oscar nominated film “The New World,” an epic about the encounter between English and First American societies in the early 1600s.
Some of Kilcher’s other credits include starring in the title role of “Princess Kaiulani,” the award-winning television show “Sons of Anarchy,” as well as “Longmire,” “Shouting Secrets,” “Firelight,” “Neverland” and “Yellowstone.” Kilcher both starred in and produced the film “The Power of Few.”
In addition to acting, Kilcher is an accomplished singer and songwriter, as well as a committed human rights and environmental activist and organizer. She has used her public voice to speak out for the voiceless and many of today’s most important and relevant causes and issues.
Her philanthropic and advocacy work has garnered her many national and international nominations, awards and honors, including the Young Hollywood Green Award, the Gandhi Award and the prestigious Brower Youth Award.
Since age 16, Kilcher has maintained a dedication to Indigenous rights and environmental justice activism, as well as grassroots organizing. Her persona and dedicated work for Indigenous rights and environmental justice in the Amazon were one of James Cameron’s original inspirations in creating his lead character of “Neytiri” for his highly successful film “Avatar.” Her activism has also garnered the respect of many notable Indigenous leaders such as Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, Bolivian President Evo Morales and Indigenous leader Alberto Pizango.
Kilcher frequently lends her celebrity, voice and energy as spokesperson and collaborator to many notable organizations, such as Amnesty international, Greenpeace, Amazon Watch and AIDESEP. She has spoken on a wide spectrum of subjects at international conferences and panels, including the Harvard Leadership Conference, United Nations “Declaration of the Rights Of Indigenous Peoples,” International Youth Media Summit, International Forum On Globalization (IFG), Amnesty International women’s rights and youth leadership conferences in various countries.
Kilcher is the founder of on-Q Initiative, Youth4Truth media and Action Hero Network, a collaboration of many small grassroots organizations, projects and “Everyday Action Heroes” within our communities who she feels are the true front-line soldiers of effective change. In her free time, Kilcher enjoys making music and is currently recording a highly-anticipated album of her original songs.
Te Ata’s story
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. Yet, of all the stories she shared, none is more inspiring than her own.
Mary Thompson Fisher was born Dec. 3, 1895, near Emet, Oklahoma. Fisher later took the stage name and became well known as “Te Ata,” which means “Bearer of the Morning.” A citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, Te Ata was an accomplished actor and teller of First American stories.
During the prime of her more than 60-year career, she performed a unique one-woman show of First American heritage and culture in England and Scandinavia, at the White House for President Franklin Roosevelt, for the King and Queen of Great Britain, and on stages across the United States.
Although Te Ata worked as an actor and drama instructor, she is best known for her artistic interpretations of Indian stories and for her children's book in which she was a co-author.
Te Ata first learned of the beauty and wisdom of First American culture from her father, Thomas, who told her a variety of First American 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. 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.
Te Ata died Oct. 26, 1995, in Oklahoma City, though her legacy and influence on the First American storytelling traditions continue to this day.
She was 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.
The film “Te Ata,” starring Q'orianka Kilcher, shares her story of breaking cultural barriers and changing public perception during a storied career that spanned from the 1920s through the 1980s.
About “Te Ata” the feature film
“Te Ata” features an all-star cast including Kilcher; Graham Greene (“Dances with Wolves” and “Northern Exposure”); Gil Birmingham (“Twilight,” “Yellowstone” and “Hell or High Water”); Brigid Brannagh (“Army Wives” and “Runaways”); Mackenzie Astin (“Wyatt Earp,” “Windsor” and “Montford: The Chickasaw Rancher”); and Oklahoma native Cindy Pickett (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “The Guiding Light”).
In 2014, the Chickasaw Nation embarked upon telling the story of Mary Francis “Te Ata” Thompson Fisher. This feature film made about her life depicts the events of Te Ata’s journey to fame.
The movie follows the early life, education and career of Thompson, who wed famed astronomer Dr. Clyde Fisher in 1933. He served as curator at the American Museum of Natural History and later head of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City.
“Te Ata” is now available to stream on Netflix.