The Cherokee Word for Water  is a feature-length motion picture that tells the story of the work that led Wilma Mankiller to become the first modern female Chief of the Cherokee Nation.


The Cherokee Word For Water is a feature-length motion picture inspired by the true story of the struggle for, opposition to, and ultimate success of a rural Cherokee community to bring running water to their families by using the traditional concept of “gadugi “– working together to solve a problem.

Set in the early 1980s, The Cherokee Word For Water begins with the return of Wilma Mankiller to her rural Oklahoma Cherokee community where many houses lack running water and others are little more than shacks. After centuries of being dehumanized and dispossessed of their land and identity, the people no longer feel they have power or control over their lives or future.

Based on the true story of the Bell Waterline Project, the movie is about a community coming together to improve its life condition. Led by Wilma Mankiller, who went on to become the first woman chief of the Cherokee Nation, and fullblood Cherokee organizer Charlie Soap, they join forces and build nearly twenty miles of waterline using a community of volunteers. In the process, they inspire the community to trust each other, and reawaken universal indigenous values of reciprocity and interconnectedness. The successful completion of the waterline sparked a movement of similar self-help projects across the Cherokee nation and in Indian country that continues to this day.