Wilma Mankiller had a formidable name, but she wasn't the lawbreaker one might assume. Quite the opposite, she was a lawmaker – the first female Chief of the Cherokee Nation.
Mankiller was just 40 years old when she became Chief in 1985. But her relative youth didn't stop her from displaying strong leadership and making positive changes. During her eleven-year tenure, she oversaw a period of huge growth for the Cherokee Nation, with the population almost tripling from 55,000 to 156,000. She strengthened the relationship between the Cherokee Nation and the U.S. government. She worked to establish community development programs and revived the tribal high school in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
She did all this while proving that a woman could thrive and succeed in the highest office in her nation. The Cherokee traditionally saw both men and women in leadership positions, but the government was male-dominated in Mankiller's era. She took her position as a woman in power seriously, and she encouraged other women and girls who wanted to lead.
Mankiller was an inspiration to women and men, Cherokee and others. The entries in her Guest Book show just how many lives she touched, before her death on April 6, 2010. Here's just a small sampling…
Wilma was an icon, worked tirelessly for her Tribe and the causes she believed in. She has been many places, held many honors, met with Presidents and other dignitaries but she was a humble woman who treated EVERYONE with respect and dignity. She did not forget her roots and I feel very honored to have known her and members of her family who have both had an impact on my life. My heartfelt sympathy and prayers to all.
Standing strong amongst the worlds mightiest leaders. Living with courage, leading with compassion and conviction. A mighty woman, gentle and strong. Her great life will remain with us anytime humility, honor & reverance are at hand. It is better being a woman, because of Wilma Mankiller, Chief.
Wilma, your accomplishments and dedication are and will be an inspiration to not only women but all people who strive to better themselves and improve their surroundings. We live in a better place because of you. Thank you.
I will not forget that every day is a good day. I will live my life in an honorable way, in harmony with man and nature. I will respect and practice my culture and traditions. Thanks Wilma for the lessons and teachings.
Written by Linnea Crowther