Dean Chavers: Wilma Mankiller was activist in California
"I first met Wilma Mankiller in the spring of 1969. Lee Brightman, the original angry Indian radical, had a half dozen of us picketing the consulate of Ecuador in San Francisco. Some soldiers had invited some Indians to a picnic on a Sunday, put poison in the Kool Aid, and killed 21 of them.

The government was not going to indict or try the soldiers, so we were mad. Lee was the head of Native American Studies at UC Berkeley and the rest of us were students. At noon this young lady walked up and said, “What are you guys doing?” We told her, she picked up a sign, and walked with us instead of going to lunch.

Somebody said, “What is your name?” and she answered “Wilma Olaya.” She told us she was working as a legal secretary, and that her husband Hugo was an accountant. That’s how I met Wilma Mankiller. She was 23 years old.

Eight months later 78 Indian students took over Alcatraz Island. Wilma came out the next week, and stayed off and on for months. It changed her life. She had gone to the Bay Area with her family on Relocation 15 years before. After Alcatraz she wanted to become involved in Indian affairs, and Olaya wanted her to be a housewife. It led to their divorce.

Wilma then became involved in the struggle of the Pit River people for the return of some of their land. Richard Oakes and I spent six months in 1970 with these wonderful strong people. Wilma volunteered at their attorney’s office; his name was Aubrey Grossman. This work opened her eyes to what was going on in the Indian world.

The next time I saw Wilma, she was running the Indian Education program in the Oakland Public Schools. She had quit her legal secretary job, and had started to college. It took her almost a decade, but she earned her degree after she moved back home."

Get the Story:
Dean Chavers: Wilma Mankiller and Me (The Native American Times 4/14)

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

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