Chief Wilma Mankiller

The name says it all, does it not?

Wilma Mankiller became the first woman to ever lead a major Native American tribe when she became the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1985. Her surname was passed down from an ancestor who was an honored and revered Cherokee warrior; Wilma earned the badass family name in her own right, however, when she used her leadership to fight passionately for the rights of her people and for the rights of all women.

Born in Tahlequah, Oklahoma in 1945, Mankiller moved with her family to San Francisco, California when she was very young. She married at 17 and gave birth to two daughters, Felicia and Gina. While in San Francisco, Mankiller was inspired by the attempts of Native Americans to take back Alcatraz Island for their people during the 1960s, and first became active in Indian affairs when she helped fundraise for their cause and visited their camp several times during their occupation of the island. The group was often criticized for its demonstration…gee, forcefully taking land? What savagery, I mean who would ever do a thing like that??!?

After divorcing her husband, Mankiller decided to move back to Oklahoma with her two daughters in the 1970s, where she became extremely active in tribal affairs.

In 1983 Wilma became the deputy chief of the Cherokee nation. She began serving as principal chief in 1985 and won reelection for two full consecutive terms after. During her three terms, Mankiller tripled her tribe’s enrollment, doubled employment and built new housing, health centers and children’s programs in northeast Oklahoma. Under her leadership, infant mortality declined and educational achievement rose. In 1990, she signed a historic self-determination agreement in which the Bureau of Indian Affairs surrendered direct control over millions of dollars in federal funding to the tribe. I believe that the only appropriate reaction here is Yaaas Queen.

Mankiller did not run for reelection when her ill health due to a neuromuscular disease, kidney failure, and pancreatic cancer, forced her to relinquish her leadership. Even after her retirement, however, she continued to fight for the rights of Native Americans and women everywhere. In 1993, Mankiller was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and in 1998 President Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor awarded to civilians in the United States.

Wilma Mankiller passed away in 2010, but continues to serve as an inspiration for women and people of color everywhere. Keep slaying wherever you are, Wilma. Keep slaying.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *