Friday, April 9, 2010

Honoring and Remembering the Life, Words, and Accomplishments of Wilma Mankiller (November 18, 1945 - April 6, 2010 ECD), former two-term Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, community activist, author, and tribal legislator

With sadness, comes this news.

The following note may also be seen on the blog of Joy Harjo, posted April 6, 2010 ECD, which is linked to here:

A note from the Oklahoma Cherokee Nation:
Dear Friends,

Our personal and national hearts are heavy with sorrow and sadness with the passing this morning of Wilma Mankiller, our former Principal Chief. 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. Years ago, she and her husband Charlie Soap showed the world what Cherokee people can do when given the chance, when they organized the self-help water line in the Bell community She said Cherokees in that community learned that it was their choice, their lives, their community and their future. Her gift to us is the lesson that our lives and future are for us to decide. We can carry on that Cherokee legacy by teaching our children that lesson. Please keep Charlie, Gina and Felicia in your prayers. Wilma asked that any gifts in her honor be made as donations to One Fire Development Corporation, a non-profit dedicated to advancing Native American communities though economic development, and to valuing the wisdom that exists within each of the diverse tribal communities around the world. Tax deductible donations can be made at as well as The mailing address for One Fire Development Corporation is 1220 Southmore Houston, TX 77004. Details of her memorial service will be forthcoming.

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[this image is from here]

On the shorter list of people I wish I had met and known well, Chief Wilma Mankiller is among them. I did communicate to her, but not with her. As soon as I'd heard her health was failing, I sent her a note of my wishes for an easy passing. She received that note. It was written on 3 March 2010 ECD and is copied here:
Dear Wilma Mankiller,

Thank you for all the many years of work you have done and may continue yet to do. I hope you have all the love and support around you at this particular time of dealing with forces that are not as external as some you have fought. And I hear that you are prepared for whatever journey awaits you.

I have followed your work for many years, and you have been an inspiration to me.

I wanted to let you know, as I'm sure most of the people whose lives you touch you do not hear from.

I am wishing you happy days and wondrous spiritual travels.

Love, Julian Real

What follows are many discussions of her life and work. Quotations by her, audio of an interview with her from 1993, remembrances and obituaries, photographs, and links to more about her. I hope this serves as a small measure of my respect and admiration for her, a Great Woman and a Great Leader of the Proud and Resilient Cherokee Nation. 

Here is the Wilma ManKiller Website:, where there are speeches, photos, and biographical information.

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 [this photograph is from here]

Selected Quotes by Chief Wilma Mankiller
[sources for these quotes are here, here, and here]

“I want to be remembered as the person who helped us restore faith in ourselves.”
“I think the most important issue we have as a people is what we started, and that is to begin to trust our own thinking again and believe in ourselves enough to think that we can articulate our own vision of the future and then work to make sure that that vision becomes a reality.”

“Individually and collectively, Cherokee people possess an extraordinary ability to face down adversity and continue moving forward.”

“The secret of our success is that we never, never give up.” 
“My name is Mankiller, and in the old Cherokee Nation, when we lived here in the Southeast, we lived in semi-autonomous villages, and there was someone who watched over the village, who had the title of mankiller. And I'm not sure what you could equate that to, but it was sort of like a soldier or someone who was responsible for the security of the village, and so anyway this one fellow liked the title mankiller so well that he kept it as his name, and that's who we trace our ancestry back to.”

“One of the things my parents taught me, and I'll always be grateful as a gift, is to not ever let anybody else define me; that for me to define myself . . . and I think that helped me a lot in assuming a leadership position.”

"There were a significant number of people in this country that were still questioning whether Indians were human.
"I've run into more discrimination as a woman than as an Indian."

 “Prior to my election, young Cherokee girls would never have thought that they might grow up and become chief.”

“A lot of young girls have looked to their career paths and have said they'd like to be a chief. There's been a change in the limits people see.”  

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AP Photo/Michael Wyke
In this Sept. 19, 1996 file photo, Wilma Mankiller, former Cherokee Nation chief, spoke during a news conference in Tulsa, Okla. Mankiller, one of the few women ever to lead a major American Indian tribe, died Tuesday April 6 after battling pancreatic cancer. She was 64.

The photograph, its caption, and what follows immediately is all from Indian Country Today, found *here* and cross posted below. Other articles and links follow this story.

Wilma Mankiller, beloved leader and friend, passes on

By Rob Capriccioso

Click here to hear an exclusive interview with Rob Capriccioso on NPR about the passing of Wilma Mankiller.

WASHINGTON – With a last name like hers, some say Wilma Mankiller was destined for the history books.

But many friends and admirers nationwide aren’t waiting for those historical tomes to be written. Thousands of newspaper articles, Internet messages, and other tributes and remembrances have already surfaced in honor of the first woman elected to lead the Cherokee Nation, who passed away at age 64 on April 6 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

The outpouring of adulation, which has included praise-filled statements from President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton – who awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998 – and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is not surprising to those who knew her best.

“She had the uncanny ability to make people in Native America and beyond feel like she was talking right to them,” said Tom Holm, a longtime friend and noted Native American scholar.

“She was one of the great American Indian thinkers. We have lost a voice that can’t easily be replaced.”

It was through her tribal roots that Mankiller became a nationally known figure after her service as principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, which began in 1985. She served with great popularity in that position for 10 years, and was deputy principal chief for two years before that.

“Wilma exemplified a Native woman’s leadership, both in her manner and in her consistent and unfailing devotion to her family, her people, the land, and the ways in which we are connected to past and future generations.”

-Rebecca Tsosie, an Indian law professor at Arizona State University
Her legacy at the Cherokee Nation, which opened its enrollment during her leadership to ultimately become the second largest tribe in the United States, is firmly entrenched. It was under her tenure that multiple educational, health and economic development initiatives took hold.

Among Mankiller’s many successes, she oversaw the substantial revitalization of the tribe, including several new free-standing health clinics, an $11 million Job Corps Center, and greatly expanded services for children and youth. She also led the team that developed the core of what’s now known as Cherokee Nation Enterprises.

Chad Smith, current Cherokee Nation principal chief, said after her passing that his tribe is a “stronger tribal nation because of her example of Cherokee leadership, statesmanship, humility, grace, determination and decisiveness.”

Mankiller’s legacy extended far beyond the borders of her tribe. A heroine of the women’s rights movement, she spent countless hours devoted to philanthropic work after her time as chief, serving on numerous minority and women-focused boards, including those of the Ford Foundation, the Ms. Foundation for Women, the Seventh Generation Fund, Women Empowering Women for Indian Nations and the Freedom Forum.

She also wrote two books about her life and heritage, and taught numerous Native American studies courses at learning institutions throughout the nation.

Susan Masten, founder and co-president of WEWIN, said Mankiller’s tireless advocacy on behalf of Native American females was but one spoke in her wheel of influence.

“She really did so much to improve the lives of so many,” said Masten, who invited Mankiller to serve as a founding board member of WEWIN in 2004. “Yes, women’s issues are a huge part of her legacy, but she was a pioneer in so many ways.”

When Mankiller decided to retire from the tribe in 1995, still as popular as ever, she hinted at her journeys yet to come, citing the biblical verse, “To everything there is a season. My season here is coming to an end.”

The New York Times documented that farewell scene, reporting that many tribal employees were in tears at the prospect of losing their beloved leader.

But Mankiller did not dwell on the sadness. She kept her speech short, hugged her friends, and told the Times that she was ready to begin a new chapter. “You don’t have to have a title or a position to be effective,” she said then.

And she was true to those words. Soon after retirement, she returned with conviction to make waves on the national scene, accepting a fellowship at Dartmouth College to teach students and faculty members a smattering of her lifelong messages.

But she wasn’t one to go easy on her new friends in academia simply because they had invited her. Instead, she was quick to note the lack of diversity sometimes found in segments of that world.

“The people [who] don’t have a lot of interaction with minority people or with women in leadership roles or with Native Americans, they are the ones we ought to be talking to,” Mankiller told local New Hampshire press.

Many of Mankiller’s truisms in the years after her two terms as principal chief hit on the importance of sharing Native American realities and wisdom with non-Indians, especially those who have tended to be ignorant.

During a 2008 appearance on National Public Radio, she hinted that much work was left to be done on that matter, discussing the many wrong notions she had encountered about Native America throughout her travels.

“I think that in virtually every sector of society, Native people, whether they’re in tribal government or whether they’re in the private sector or an artist, they encounter people every day who have such enormously stupid, ridiculous stereotypes about Native people and have so little accurate information about either the history of Native people or their contemporary lives,” she told host Michel Martin.

Mankiller saw herself as a conduit for information, Holm recalled, saying that’s part of why she was such a popular Vine Deloria Jr. Scholar at the University of Arizona in 2009.

“The students, the professors, everyone was in awe of her,” said Holm, himself a longtime scholar at the institution.

“I think a lot of them were surprised I knew her, that I could get such a big name to show up,” he said with a laugh, noting that they had been friends for many years.

Mankiller’s time at Dartmouth and Arizona were just two of her many teaching adventures after her days of tribal leadership. In addition to co-writing two books, “Mankiller: A Chief and Her People” and “Every Day Is a Good Day: Reflections by Contemporary Indigenous Women,” she would go on mini-tours of campuses, staying for a few days to share some passages or a speech, and to meet her followers.

Rebecca Tsosie, an Indian law professor at Arizona State University, is one of many fans who fondly remember meeting Mankiller after one of her public inspirational speeches.

“There are some people who have this rare quality, I guess ‘luminous’ is the best word. That is how I will always remember her. She was powerful, but in a way that was so kind, so compassionate.

“As amazing as she was, however, she also had a way of just sitting down with you, like an old friend, chatting and laughing about some small thing that struck her as amusing,” Tsosie said.

“To me, she exemplified a Native woman’s leadership, both in her manner and in her consistent and unfailing devotion to her family, her people, the land, and the ways in which we are connected to past and future generations. She knew these things, practiced them, and had such a determination to make sure that this would be protected into the future.”

Ron Karten, a writer with the Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde, was in the audience during one of Mankiller’s famous public conversations, one she shared with former American Indian Movement leader John Trudell at the University of Oregon in 2005.

Like so many who saw her in such venues, Karten was impressed that despite her health obstacles – she carried a cane at that outing – she was “incredibly knowledgeable” and even a little bit “feisty.”

Mankiller showed some of her spirited energy during that talk with Trudell, lamenting of non-Indians, “After hundreds of years of living together, they know so little about us.”

And she discussed feminism in contemporary times, saying that “every woman figures out her own way to deal with sexism.” In her case, she said she made her mark among the men at the table by pulling her own seat up, and getting down to business.

“I never thought about being a woman,” she remarked. “Nobody told me I couldn’t do anything.”

She also said it was important not to let society define what it is to be a woman.

“Girls and women have to have their own identity, not from their boyfriends or husbands. Define it for yourself in your own way,” she said.

Sara Gould, Ms. Foundation president, was quite familiar with the tribal leader’s role in the women’s rights movement, having worked with her for several years when Mankiller served on the board of that organization.

“I turned to Wilma many times for ideas on bringing women together, to help us move our shared endeavors forward.”

Gould said Mankiller’s contributions made Native American women much more visible to people who would have had no understanding of them otherwise.

“Most Americans haven’t visited a reservation; they really have little clue about Native Americans. Wilma really was able to speak about her experience, and get other women thinking about it.”

Elouise Cobell, no stranger to being a celebrated Indian leader, said she and many Native American women viewed Mankiller as a role model and a pioneer.

“She showed that women could aspire to – and achieve – major leadership positions in our Native communities,” the Blackfeet citizen said.

Through Mankiller’s personal health struggles, including the ramifications of a horrific car accident in 1979, two kidney transplants, lymphoma and breast cancer, she also became an advocate for Indian health issues.

Raining Deer Harjo, an author and motivational speaker, quoted Mankiller in one of her writings focused on surviving breast cancer. She said that it was the courage of people like the former Cherokee chief who helped her make it through her own ordeal.

“I still lean on her words.”

Larger than any of her commitments to various issues, foundations, books and public appearances, Masten said Mankiller’s greatest source of satisfaction was her family.

“She had a strong Cherokee husband, Charlie Soap, who supported her, went with her everywhere, loved her so much – it was a beautiful thing.

“And her daughters, Felicia and Gina, were always traveling with her, or helping her in her endeavors. It was through her family that Wilma found the strength to be the courageous woman she was to so many people.”

Mankiller’s extended family, including good friend Gloria Steinem, one of the top leaders of the contemporary women’s movement, was also a substantial source of strength, Masten said.

Even after the Cherokee heroine knew she would succumb to pancreatic cancer, she opened herself to the world, sharing her personal e-mail address in her last statement to the public, issued in early March.

“I learned a long time ago that I can’t control the challenges the Creator sends my way, but I can control the way I think about them and deal with them,” Mankiller wrote in her final message.

“On balance, I have been blessed with an extraordinarily rich and wonderful life, filled with incredible experiences. And I am grateful to have a support team composed of loving family and friends.”

She continued her advocacy work, striving to get a Native American studies department established at Northeastern State University, at which she was a scholar.

Even in death, Mankiller managed to keep her strong spirit alive, asking that any gifts in her honor be made as donations to One Fire Development Corporation, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing the economic development of Native American communities.

“She definitely wasn’t one to rest on her laurels,” Holm said. “She kept on going until the last day. Now, the next generations have to keep up her pace.” 

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What follows next is from NPR, *here*.

Remembering First Female Chief Of Cherokee Nation

April 7, 2010
    Wilma Mankiller
    Enlarge APDuring her tenure as leader of the Cherokee Nation, Mankiller tripled the tribe's enrollment and built new health care facilities.
    April 7, 2010
    Wilma Mankiller, whose life encapsulated some of the traditions and the changes that are part of contemporary Native American culture, died on Tuesday. She was 64.

    In 1985, Mankiller became the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation, a position she held for a decade. As chief, she headed the Tribal Council, the ruling body of the 72,000-member Cherokee Nation, and was principal guardian of Cherokee customs and traditions.

    During her tenure, membership in the Cherokee Nation tripled and its budget grew to $150 million a year. Mankiller put much of that money back into health care and educational resources for the tribe.

    Web Extras

    [Julian's note:
    Listen to Wilma Mankiller, in a 1993 interview on NPR's Fresh Air, below, explaining the history of her name; the Cherokee Nation's relationship to the U.S. Nation; about her being the first woman elected as principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation and support from the older members of the tribe; her early life being relocated from an isolated rural farm in Oklahoma with no electricity; her family's struggles to keep them together; their move to "the tenderloin" section of San Francisco when she was eleven; contending with the unusual sound of sirens; the San Francisco Indian Center; the U.S. government's genocidal efforts to break up Indian families, to "solve the Indian Problem"; Alcatraz-related activism; her father's death and funeral; her return to Oklahoma in 1977 to her grandparents' land; recovery from the emotional and physical trauma of a 1979 car accident while in graduate school; her maturing into the Cherokee approach to life: being able to continually move forward with a good mind, with focus on the positive aspects of life; the amazement of her closeness to universal love following the automobile crash; making a decision to live in part for her two daughters; a medicine man's dream of a woman rising to lead the Cherokee Nation (he told her she looked like the woman in his vision), and her subsequent leadership of the Cherokee Nation based on the strength of all she'd lived through with positive focus; most of her siblings' return, coming full circle to her family home in Oklahoma.]

    In a 1993 interview on Fresh Air, Mankiller described how a 1979 car accident that nearly killed her completely changed the way she viewed her own life. She says that accident helped her adopt the Cherokee approach to life.

    "I think the Cherokee approach to life is being able to continually move forward with kind of a good mind and not focus on the negative things in your life and the negative things you see around you, but focus on the positive things and try to look at the larger picture and keep moving forward," Mankiller explained. "[It] also taught me to look at the larger things in life rather than focusing on small things, and it's also awfully, awfully hard to rattle me after having faced my own mortality ... so the things I learned from those experiences actually enabled me to lead. Without those experiences, I don't think I would have been able to lead. I think I would have gotten caught up in a lot of nonsensical things."

    Five years after the car accident, Mankiller first ran for office in the Cherokee Nation tribe. She says that during that election, which she lost, her gender played a large role.

    "The only issue in the first election was my being female," she said. "That was a total — a total issue in the entire election. There was incredible opposition because of that. But the people who stayed with me in the '83 election and who stayed with me through today, 10 years later, have been the older people in the tribe and the more traditional elements of the tribe. I've always found that fascinating. My husband and I have talked about it and I think we've come to the conclusion that maybe older people have a greater sense of history and understand that there was a time when women played a more significant role in the tribe and there was more balance and harmony between men and women in the Cherokee Nation."

    Mankiller served as the chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1985 to 1995. In 1998, President Clinton awarded her the Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor.

    In addition to her husband, Charlie Soap, Mankiller is survived by her mother, two daughters, several brothers and sisters and four grandchildren. Her memoir is titled Mankiller: A Chief and Her People. She was also the author of Every Day is a Good Day: Reflections by Contemporary Indigenous Women.

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    U.S. Congress to Honor Chief Wilma Mankiller, WKTUL news story *here* and cross posted just below.
    Congress To Honor Mankiller
    posted 04/08/10 1:31 pm   producer: Kevin King
    NewsChannel 8 - Congress To Honor Mankiller

    Washington, DC -
    Click here to read the full resolution.
    Oklahoma's Congressional delegation will introduce a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives honoring the life of former Cherokee Nation Prinicpal Chief Wilma Mankiller, who died earlier this week from pancreatic cancer.

    The resolution is being introduced by Congressman Dan Boren and will be introduced on Tuesday, when the House of Representatives next convenes for official business.

    "Chief Wilma Mankiller was in inspiration to Native American women both within her tribe and across the nation," said Boren. "Her service to her tribe and her dedication to advancing the role of women within it set a strong example for young Native American women everywhere to follow. She is a legendary figure in the cultural fabric of Oklahoma.  It is my honor to introduce this resolution to acknowledge her."

    "Chief Mankiller was a national icon and role model for women and Native Americans everywhere," added Congressman Tom Cole. "Her strong, visionary and principled leadership set a standard seldom equaled and never to be surpassed. No one more fiercely defended the concept of tribal sovereignty, yet no one was more willing to partner with others of different backgrounds and points of view than Wilma Mankiller."

    "Oklahoma has lost a legend," said Congresswoman Mary Fallin. "Chief Mankiller was a true trailblazer in our state's history, as well as an esteemed and revered leader of her tribe. Her leadership is an inspiration to us all, reminding us to challenge the status quo and overcome barriers for the betterment of our neighbors, our communities and our nation as a whole. My thoughts and prayers are with her family and many, many friends."

    "Chief Wilma Mankiller led an extraordinary life," Congressman Frank Lucas said. "As the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation, she set a powerful example for the women in her tribe. Her many contributions to the Cherokee Nation and the state of Oklahoma will not soon be forgotten."

    "I am pleased to join my Oklahoma colleagues in honoring Chief Wilma Mankiller, a woman who dedicated her life the people of our state," Congressman John Sullivan said. "As we remember her contributions and the legacy she leaves behind, my thoughts and prayers remain with her family, friends and the many lives she touched before her passing."

    Mankiller was born in 1945 in Tahlequah and lived near Rocky Mountain until her family relocated to California when she was 11. When she returned to Oklahoma in 1977, she began an entry-level job at the Cherokee Nation.

    Six years later, Mankiller was elected deputy chief of the Cherokee Nation and in 1985, became the first-ever female chief when Ross Swimmer resigned to head the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

    She was elected to the office in 1987 and re-elected in 1991, but chose not to run again in 1995 due to health problems.

    During her time as principal chief, she founded the Cherokee Nation Community Development Department which built housing and water projects in low-income Cherokee communities.

    Mankiller also oversaw new development, including several new free-standing health clinics, an $11 million Job Corps Center, and greatly expanded services for children and youth.

    Mankiller is also known as an author and lecturer, and has recently served on philanthropic boards and committees that aim to promote the First Amendment.

    In 1998, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- the nation's highest civilian honor -- by then-President Bill Clinton.

    A memorial service is planned for Saturday morning at 11 a.m. at the Cherokee Nation Cultural Grounds in Tahlequah.   
    *          *          *          *
    The story that follows is from *here* from NewsOK.

    Gloria Steinem reflects on friendship with Wilma Mankiller


    Published: April 8, 2010

    TAHLEQUAH — The friendship of the first woman to be named Cherokee Nation Principal Chief and a 1960s and 1970s feminist icon was not only a political alliance, but a friendship of mutual trust and respect.

    Left: Angela Davis, Wilma Mankiller and Gloria Steinem in 1998
    "We were a chosen family,” said Gloria Steinem, who is staying at Wilma Mankiller’s home in rural Adair County.

    For two weeks Steinem kept a bedside vigil, watching as pancreatic cancer slowly claimed the life of her friend. Steinem will be one of the featured speakers at Mankiller’s memorial service set for 11 a.m. Saturday at the Cherokee Nation Cultural Grounds in Tahlequah.

    The women’s friendship spanned a quarter of a century, she said.

    In addition to being political allies, the women spent vacations together and shared life’s ups and downs, including sicknesses and the death of Steinem’s husband in 2003.

    The two women met when Mankiller joined the board for the Ms. Foundation for Women, a nonprofit organization, co-founded by Steinem in 1973.

    "A year or so after I met her, she was becoming ill and needed her first (kidney) transplant,” Steinem said. "We bonded over transplant surgery that happened to another friend.”

    Mankiller was diagnosed with colon cancer and lymphoma in 1996. She also received two kidney transplants, the first in 1990 and the second in 1998.

    "In a just country, she (Wilma) would have been president,” Steinem said.

    The two women fought side by side on many issues, including American Indian and women’s rights.

    "She was always inclusive and she personified the balance between men and women,” Steinem said. "She saw people as equal.”

    Mankiller’s biggest contribution was that she could show political and social causes were connected and many issues were one in the same, she said.

    "Her gift was to create independence, not dependence,” Steinem said.

    Wilma paved a way for all young women, not just Cherokee women, she said.

    At age 66, Steinem reached out to her friend regarding an equal marriage. Steinem saw Wilma’s marriage to Charlie Soap as an equal marriage and that was the only kind of marriage she would allow for herself.

    "I asked her if I should get married at my age,” Steinem said. "I was happily unmarried for many years.”

    Mankiller told Steinem she was going to go out into the yard, sit under the stars and think about it.
    "I was to call her the next morning,” Steinem said.

    Steinem married David Bale, a human rights activist, [...] at dawn at the home of Mankiller and Soap in September 2000. Soap performed the ceremony, followed by a female judge who performed a civil ceremony.

    Steinem said everyone then sat down to a huge wedding breakfast and went back to bed.

    Read more:

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