Paul Chaat Smith: Wilma Pearl Mankiller's trail of triumph
"Remembering Wilma Mankiller, who died this week, isn't hard, because first of all, who can forget a name like that?

Wilma Pearl Mankiller. What a perfect name. Perfect, that is, after you've won two terms as leader of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and a Presidential Medal of Freedom, traveled the world, acquired celebrity friends like Gloria Steinem and become one of the most famous American Indians on the planet.

Not so perfect in 1969, when you're 25 years old and a soon-to-be-divorced mother of two living in San Francisco. Try making a dentist appointment with a name like Mankiller or Crow Dog or Pretty Shield: half the time people would think it's a crank call and hang up on you.

But that was the least of her problems. Wilma Mankiller's biggest problem was being an Indian in 1969. We were so square, and so invisible.

Why was she in San Francisco then, instead of Oklahoma? She had moved there with her family (she was one of 11 children) because the United States said there wasn't any future in Indians living on reservations. So it began a program imaginatively called Urban Indian Relocation, which moved Indians to cities. It wasn't a terrible idea, just a bad one, at least for most Indians."

Get the Story:
Paul Chaat Smith: Wilma Mankiller's trail of triumph (CNN 4/8)

Relevant Documents:
CNO Press Release | White House Statement | DOI Statement

Related Stories:
Johnny Flynn: Wilma Mankiller, the legendary Indian leader (4/9)
ICT Editorial: Wilma Mankiller a woman of undaunted spirit (4/9)
VOA: Remembering Wilma Mankiller, former Cherokee chief (4/9)
Sue Masten: Wilma Mankiller stood strong for tribal nations (4/8)
Details for Wilma Mankiller memorial on Saturday, April 10 (4/8)
NPR: Remembering Wilma Mankiller, former Cherokee chief (4/8)
Nation mourns loss of Wilma Mankiller, ex-Cherokee chief (4/7)
Tulsa World: Wilma Mankiller led Cherokees to prominence (4/7)
Muskogee Phoenix: Wilma Mankiller leaves a great legacy (4/7)
Wilma Mankiller, former Cherokee Nation chief, passes on (4/6)
Former Cherokee chief Mankiller diagnosed with cancer (4/3)