Time to bring this beautiful Osage story to my page. This one about success and talent amongst the terrors in the homeland.
In March of 2021 I wrote another story on the Oklahoma relocation of Indian nations. Among them were many enslaved blacks, one of which was a 12 year old girl named Sarah Recter, best known for being the “Richest Colored Girl in the world”.
Another post in March of this year, 2023, was about this woman who brought the story into our times, “Oklahoma’s Poor Rich Indians Zitkala-Ša’s most influential pieces of political writing, “Oklahoma’s Poor Rich Indians”, was published in 1923 by the Indian Rights Association. The article exposed several American corporations that had been working systematically, through such extra-legal means as robbery and even murder, to defraud Native American tribes, particularly the Osage. After oil was discovered on their lands, speculators and criminals tried to acquire their headrights to leasing fees from development of their oil-rich land in Oklahoma. During the 1920s, numerous Osage were murdered.
Both Zitkala and Maria were given U.S. quarters as recognition for their works. It is not something important just because of the simple “token” thrown their way. However, they are beautifully designed, just too tiny! However, Maria Tallchief did receive the Presidential Medal and others from her home communities. When you have obvious talent, nothing can keep you down. Maria bypassed the norms and got to where she needed to be to be recognized. The rest is history.
Elizabeth Marie Tall Chief was born January 24, 1925 in Fairfax, Oklahoma. Her father was a member of the Osage Nation. Her mother, Ruth Porter, had grown up very poor and was never able to take dancing lessons. When Tallchief and her sister Marjorie showed interest in dancing their mother immediately placed them in lessons. Tallchief excelled at dance and music. During her teen years, the family moved to Los Angeles, California in hopes of securing advanced ballet training for their daughters and opportunities for them to dance professionally.
In 1942, at the age of 17, Maria Tallchief moved to New York City to pursue her dreams of becoming a dancer. With luck, grit and determination she joined the famed Ballet Russe Monte Carlo as an apprentice and moved quickly through the ranks, dancing first in the corps de ballet and later performing leading roles. In George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet, Tallchief achieved her goal of becoming America’s prima ballerina, the first Native American artist to achieve the rank.
As her career began to take off, many tried to persuade Tallchief to change her last name so that dance companies would not discriminate against her. She refused and continued to perform as Maria Tallchief. In 1947, she became the first American to dance with the Paris Opera Ballet. After marrying choreographer George Balanchine, who created her signature Firebird role, she became prima ballerina of the New City Ballet. One of Tallchief’s best-known roles was the Sugar Plum Fairy which she originated in The Nutcracker. In 1960, Tallchief performed at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow making her the first American to do so.