Wilma Pearl Mankiller was the first woman to lead a major Native American tribe in the United States. She served twelve years in elective office at the Cherokee Nation, the first two as Deputy Principal Chief followed by ten years as Principal Chief. She retired from public office in 1995.
Chief Wilma Mankiller's roots ran deep in the rural community of Mankiller Flats in Adair County, Oklahoma, where she spent most of her life. Wilma Mankiller was born in 1945 at Hastings Indian Hospital in Tahlequah, and grew up with few amenities. At age ten, her family moved to San Francisco as part of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Relocation Program where she lived for two decades before returning to Oklahoma in 1977.
During Wilma Mankiller's leadership at the Cherokee Nation, she met with every seated United States President and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Clinton in 1998. She served on several philanthropic boards, including twelve years on the board of trustees of the Ford Foundation, and several years each on the boards of Ms. Foundation for Women, the Seventh Generation Fund and The Freedom Forum. She also served on the board of directors for Merrill Lynch and held more than a dozen honorary doctorates from from universities including Yale, Dartmouth and Smith College. Wilma Mankiller's life story was recounted in “Mankiller: A Chief and Her People” (St. Martin’s Press, 1993), which she co-wrote with Michael Wallis. She was also the author and editor of “Every Day Is a Good Day: Reflections by Contemporary Indigenous Women” (Fulcrum Publishing, 2004).
Until her death on April 6, 2010, Wilma Mankiller worked tirelessly for the advancement of Indigenous peoples in the US and abroad. “The Cherokee Word for Water,” a feature-length movie about her community work in Bell, Oklahoma, was filmed completely in Tahlequah.
Additionally, The Wilma Mankiller Foundation has been established at the Tulsa Community Foundation to honor Chief Mankiller's legacy of social and economic justice in Indian Country.
Wilma Mankiller's Honors:
Northern Arizona University
University of Oklahoma
Oklahoma City University
Oklahoma State University
Rhode Island College
New England University
Presidential Medal of Freedom
Montgomery Fellowship, Dartmouth College
The Chubb Fellowship, Timothy Dwight College, Yale University
San Francisco State University, Hall of Fame
San Francisco State Alumna of the Year (1988)
International Women of Distinction Award, Alpha Delta Kappa
Oklahoma Hall of Fame
Oklahoma Women's Hall of Fame
National Women's Hall of Fame
International Women's Forum Hall of Fame
Minority Business Hall of Fame
Women of the Year, Oklahoma Federation of Indian Women
Woman of the Year, Ms. Magazine
Celebration of Heroes, Newsweek Cover Story
ABC Person of the Week, ABC Nightly News
National Racial Justice Award
Henry G. Bennett Distinguished Service Award, Oklahoma State University
John W. Gardner Leadership Award, Independent Sector
United States Public Health Service Leadership Award
Humanitarian Award, National Conference of Christians and Jews
The Dorothy Height Lifetime Achievement Award
The Elizabeth Blackwell Award