Academic journal article The Journal of Chickasaw History and Culture

"As Tall in Her Moccasins as These Sequoias Will Grow on Mother Earth:" the Life of Ataloa

Academic journal article The Journal of Chickasaw History and Culture

"As Tall in Her Moccasins as These Sequoias Will Grow on Mother Earth:" the Life of Ataloa

Article excerpt

Introduction

On March 27, 1896 in Indian Territory, near where today the town of Duncan, Oklahoma, is located, Mary Stone was born. Mary Stone became more famously known as Ataloa.1 According to church records from the early-twentieth century, Ataloa was "a member of an old Chickasaw family whose clan name was Uncuorna, meaning Hickory Nut Cutters."2 The name "Ataloa" that young Mary became so well known for was as apropos as beautiful and lyrical. One of her grandmothers gave young Mary the name "Ataloa," a name derived from the Chickasaw word taha, which means the singing of an anthem or song.3 The name stuck, and young Ataloa developed a beautiful and moving contralto (the lowest female vocal range) singing voice. That voice, and the messages carried by it, would bring the young Chickasaw recognition on a national and even international scale, open the world and its many cultures to her, to which she in turn shared her talent and own Native culture. In the process, she helped sustain Native American culture and develop a greater appreciation for it among non-Native Americans. As a Chickasaw, her talents and her crusades for Indian education increased the recognition of the Chickasaw Nation too. Even New York City's Metropolitan Opera House was graced by her presence, quite a geographical and cultural distance from the rural quarters of Indian Territory.4

Proud to be Native American, and proud of her Chickasaw heritage, Ataloa conveyed those sentiments confidently wherever and whenever she was able to share her talents and culture. What made her efforts more notable was that they were during a time in American history when embracing one's Native American identity was not as strong as it is today. American society was caught up in the current of 100 percent Americanism at the first of the twentieth century. That meant White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) American culture was considered superior, and those not of the mainstream should be assimilated into the dominant society. In essence, it was a movement for the amalgamation of "others" into the American mainstream. In the case of Native Americans, white American society saw this amalgamation as the solution to finally conquering Native people and bringing about the vanishing of the Indian world. Because of such pressures, a number of Native Americans, often mixed bloods, saw their Native American heritage as a stigma and downplayed it or put it away altogether.5 Ataloa, on the other hand, championed her Indian identity and culture throughout her adult life. Indeed, her life centered on maintaining and even elevating Native identity and Native culture in America and abroad. She approached this goal through a myriad of ways her entire life. She used her singing talent as a concert artist, but she also was a gifted lecturer, advocate for education, and referred to in many circles as a "Professor of Philosophy, Ethics, Public Speaking, Journalism and English."6 She became a preserver of Native music, art, and culture, not only as a singer and speaker, but also as a talented writer, a fund raiser, and a designer. On top of it all, she worked the arenas of society and politics equally well.

One of her greatest legacies, however, was that she carried Native culture into the early twentieth century and beyond, passing that legacy on to other Native Americans by teaching students at Bacone College in Muskogee, Oklahoma to become teachers and interpreters of their own Native traditions.7 Yet, far beyond the classrooms of Bacone College she used her singing voice and infectious enthusiasm to bring thousands of authences to a greater appreciation of American Indian traditions. Much of what she earned from her performances was reinvested in the education of Native American youth through scholarships and other educational opportunities.8 Because of such selfless actions, Carl Barton later wrote in the Baconian that Ataloa had become "an Indian Princess by . . . virtue" of her life-long dedication to her culture and to her students. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.