Tribute: Wilma Mankiller devoted life to Cherokee Nation
"Wilma Mankiller was a wife, a mother, and Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. From the time she finished high school until her death she worked to improve the lives of her people – helping them to receive better education and health care. She taught her people to persevere and take pride in their Cherokee traditions.

The occupation of Alcatraz in 1969 by Native Americans of different tribes had a profound effect on Mankiller. She realized then what she needed to do to tell the world that Native Americans also had rights, and she began serving them especially in the area of law and legal defense. As a single head of household who struggled with health issues, Mankiller decided to return to the reservation for good.

At that time Ross Swimmer, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, asked Mankiller to be his deputy chief. They won the election, and two years later Swimmer became head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Mankiller was sworn in to replace him as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. She focused her people on education and health care. She had new schools, job training centers, and health clinics constructed. She “showed the world what Cherokee people can do” by organizing them to construct a self-help water line in one of the reservation districts.

Mankiller taught Cherokees the choice was theirs – their lives and their future – to transform themselves. They could decide what to do and whom they wanted to become."

Get the Story:
Dr. Claire Van Ummersen: Tribute: Wilma Mankiller - 1945-2010 (Diverse Issues in Higher Education 4/13)

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

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