Author; first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation

What it means to be an Indigenous person in the 21st Century




Wilma Mankiller was the founding director of the Cherokee Nation Community Development Department, which received several national awards for innovative use of self-help in housing and water projects in low-income Cherokee communities. In 1983, she was elected the first female deputy chief of the Cherokee Nation, and president of the tribal council. In l987, she was elected to serve as the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, and was overwhelmingly re-elected in 1991. She chose not to seek re-election in l995.

During Ms. Mankiller’s tenure she and Navajo Nation President Peterson Zah co-chaired a national conference between tribal leaders and cabinet members which helped facilitate the establishment of an Office of Indian Justice within the U.S. Department of Justice. Wilma’s tenure was also marked by a great deal of new development, including several new free-standing primary care health clinics, an $11 million Job Corps Center, and greatly expanded services for children and youth. She led the team that developed the core businesses which comprise Cherokee Nation Enterprises.

She has been honored with many awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She has published several works, including, Every Day is a Good Day, in 2004, Mankiller: A Chief and Her People, co-authored in 1993, and co-edited A Reader’s Companion to the History of Women in the U.S., in 1998. She has also contributed to other publications, including an essay for Native Universe, the inaugural publication of the National Museum of the American Indian. Wilma Mankiller lives on the Mankiller family allotment in the Cherokee Nation with her husband, Charlie Soap. They have five children and ten grandchildren.

Wilma has served on several philanthropic boards, including the Seventh Generation Fund, the Ms. Foundation for Women and for twelve years on the board of trustees of the Ford Foundation, where she served on the membership, ethics, human rights and assets committees.

She currently serves on the board of trustees of the Freedom Forum, formerly the Gannett Foundation as well as its subsidiary, the Newseum, a museum on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. which just opened in 2008. The Newseum provides a comprehensive history of journalism and promote First Amendment Rights.

Ms Mankiller has a Bachelor of Science degree in social sciences, graduate work in community planning. She has 14 Honorary Doctorate Degrees, including ones from Mills College in Oakland, Smith College, Yale, Dartmouth, and the University of Oklahoma.

Ms Mankiller is in the San Francisco State University Hall of Fame; the Oklahoma Hall of Fame; The National Women’s Hall of Fame; was Woman of the Year, for Ms. Magazine; she received the John W. Gardner Leadership Award, Independent Sector; Humanitarian Award, National Conference of Christians and Jews; and was one of the 50 Most Influential People of the Century, in Oklahoma; and the 50 Most Important People in the U.S. along with numerous other awards.

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