Former Cherokee Nation Chief Wilma Mankiller, one of the few women ever to lead a major American Indian tribe, has died on Tuesday, April 6. She was 64.
As the first female chief of the Cherokees, serving from 1985 to 1995, Mankiller led the tribe in tripling its enrollment, doubling employment and building new health centers and children's programs. Her first taste of federal policy toward Indians came in the 1950s when her family participated in a government relocation program and ended up in a housing project. As chief, she took Indian issues to t he White House and met with three presidents: Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Mankiller earned a reputation for facing conflict head-on. She met snide remarks about her surname – a Cherokee military title – with humor, often delivering a straight-faced, "Mankiller is actually a well-earned nickname."
Born at W.W. Hastings Indian Hospital in Tahlequah, Mankiller moved with her family to San Francisco in the 1950s when their farm in Adair County failed. The pledge of opportunity turned out to be a life of poverty in a housing project.
This talk titled From Native New England and Beyond was given in WESU, Middletown, CT on December 12, 2008. Recorded by J. Kehaulani Kauanui. Produced for Cover to Cover by Amelia Gonzalez.