New docuseries brings Chickasaw history to Minnesota television

The series will air weekly and educate viewers on Chickasaw traditions and history.

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Meg Bishop

Members of the Chickasaw Nation have released a new documentary series set to educate viewers on the history and culture of the Chickasaw people. The series, comprising two full-length documentaries, will air on Comcast Channel 15 for local public access, weekly on Mondays until Feb. 15.

Titled “Bearer of the Morning” and “First Encounter,” the documentaries are accompanied by an educational curriculum that people can access online at Chickasaw.net/AtHome to better engage with each film’s content.

“It’s an initiative from Chickasaw Nation to inform and educate about the resilient and persevering spirit of the Chickasaw Nation,” said Tony Choate, a media spokesperson for the Chickasaw Nation.

The “Chickasaw Heritage Series” shares reenactments of historical battles, tribal traditions and stories highlighting Chickasaw activists. The Chickasaw Nation governor, Bill Anoatubby, was behind the idea to film the series and put together a Heritage Series Team.

The team’s main objective is to nationally educate the public on Chickasaw history. Both documentaries were produced entirely by members of the Heritage Team, some of whom had little experience in documentary work, according to Jeannie Barbour, creative director for the Chickasaw Nation.

“It’s changed the perception of people, broken some stereotypes and educated people along the way, with something as small as a documentary of Oklahoma about early Chickasaws,” said Brad Clonch, leader of The Heritage Series Team.

As a result of collaboration with universities and national parks, the documentary “Bearer of the Morning” was born. The filming follows Mary “Te Ata” Thompson Fisher, a tribal elder who was known for her work in educating the public about her experiences and family history through the Chickasaw tradition of storytelling. Thompson Fisher advocated for the rights of the Chickasaw people and preservation of Indigenous American cultures.

“I had met Te Ata some time ago when I first started working for the tribe. She was so very talented and even in her advanced age so spectacular, and so knowledgeable of our history and culture,” said Barbour. “Having the opportunity to talk to her, a tribal elder, was one of the great honors of my life.”

The second documentary, “First Encounter,” is about the Chickasaw peoples’ first encounters with Europeans in 1541, while Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto was attempting to expand his conquests. Chickasaw people had to face those who sought to whitewash their traditions and preserve their values.

By reaching out to national parks around the coast of Florida, where Hernando de Sota first landed, the Heritage Team was able to film on park land. The nearby town of Sarasota, Florida was named after De Sota and is largely native Chickasaw land. Clonch saw it as a leap of progress for the Chickasaw Nation to work in conjunction with the parks and share the history of Sarasota.

“We had a really good working relationship with different state parks and national parks that we came across on different projects,” said Clonch. “We’re able to introduce our history and culture that way and form some bonds that we can come back to years later for another project.”