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First Woman Cherokee Chief Wilma Mankiller Dies

Wilma Mankiller, 64, former Principle Chief of the Cherokee Nation, passed away last week at her home near Tahlequah, Oklahoma, after losing her battle with pancreatic cancer. She was the first known woman chief of a major American Indian tribe. Mankiller was Chief from 1985 to 1995. During her tenure, the Cherokee Nation’s membership tripled to become the second largest tribe in the United States. She made great strides to improve health, education, housing, utilities management, and tribal government during her time as Chief. She also devoted much of her time to civil rights work, focusing largely on women’s rights. Mankiller held a bachelors of science degree in social sciences, post graduate work in community planning, and held 14 honorary doctorate degrees, including one from Yale, reported News On 6. Among numerous other awards, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993 and former president Bill Clinton presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998. The Tahlequah Daily Press reports that over 1,500 people were in attendance at her memorial service, held on Saturday. Included in that number were Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry, Lieutenant Governor Jari Askins, Senator Jim Wilson, Representative Mike Brown, Principal Chief of the Osage Nation Jim Gray, Muscogee Creek Chief A.D. Ellis, and Gloria Steinem, feminist, activist, journalist, and long-time close friend of Mankiller’s. In a statement on WilmaMankiller.com, Chad Smith, current Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation said, “Our personal and national hearts are heavy with sorrow and sadness with the passing this morning [last Tuesday] of Wilma Mankiller. We feel overwhelmed and lost when we realize she has left us but we should reflect on what legacy she leaves us. We are better people and a stronger tribal nation because her example of Cherokee leadership, statesmanship, humility, grace, determination and decisiveness. When we become disheartened, we will be inspired by remembering how Wilma proceeded undaunted through so many trials and tribulations.” One of Mankiller’s daughters, Felicia, read a statement prepared by her mom at the memorial service. In it, she indicated that she had chosen cremation, but said, “But I would like them to bury something after today. I would like them to bury any unkindness or anger or hurtful things I may have done. Bury those with me. I also want people to know what an incredible life I’ve had. I want them to be encouraged by it…Don’t turn away from people because of how they look or what they have, because you never know what they’ll contribute to the world.”

Sources:

News On 6 3/2/10; National Women's Hall of Fame; Tahlequah Daily Press 4/12/10; WilmaMankiller.com

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