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Wilma Mankiller, Cherokee chief, dies

Patricia Sullivan

Wilma Mankiller, the first female chief of the Cherokee tribe and one of the few women to lead an American Indian tribe, has died this morning of pancreatic cancer, the Cherokee Phoenix reports. Here's the AP version. The Washington Post version is here.

During her 10 years as principal chief, Mankiller helped her tribe triple in size -- it's the second biggest tribe, after the Navajo Nation, in the U.S. She was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1993 and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998.

Her friends and colleagues spoke highly of her. The Cherokee's current principal chief, Chad Smith, told me she that broke down barriers of bigotry with humility and grace. "She valued everybody's opinion. Her humility built into wisdom and her wisdom into vision.... She made it clear sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation was sacred and she went to the mat many times, making it clear that the Cherokee Nation will not surrender one more acre as long as we live. Her marching orders were to rebuild the nation."

Carolyn McClellan, a Cherokee who is assistant director of community and constituent services at the National Museum of the American Indian, said "She was faced with so much adversity in her life, but you couldn't keep her down. She had such an effervescent spirit. She would not take no for an answer."

She also opened her home to others; it's where her friend Gloria Steinem got married.

She was on the board of the Freedom Forum and Women Empowering Women for Indian Nations, which plans to name a scholarship for her. WEWIN founder Susan Masten said "She was a true warrior and an excellent leader in the sense that she worked tirelessly to improve the lives of everyone else, including her own people, and she did it in a humble way. With all the attention she got and the awards she received... that never changed who she was as a person. She had a very big heart."

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By Patricia Sullivan  |  April 6, 2010; 12:38 PM ET
Categories:  Patricia Sullivan  | Tags: Cherokee, Cherokee Nation, Ethnicity, Indigenous, Native Americans in the United States, Pancreatic cancer, Presidential Medal of Freedom, Wilma Mankiller  
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Next: Dick Jeppson, who armed first atomic bomb, dies


God's speed to a great woman and a great leader. I remember the thrill of being able to vote for her in tribal elections and how exciting it was when she won. She did great things for our tribe.

Posted by: swnwdc | April 6, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

May the Great Spirit take her lovingly in his arms. RIP.

Posted by: barbbat | April 6, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Principal Chief Wilma Mankiller was a universal treasure who worked tirelessly, along with her husband Charlie Soap, to serve the needs of indigenous peoples world-wide. She was a staunch democrat who loved to read. Thanks to the Cherokee people for sharing their great leader. She will be missed by many.

Posted by: YvetteJoseph | April 6, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

If only the rest of the leaders in Oklahoma were as visionary and worthy as she ...

Posted by: SubRosa2 | April 6, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

May she RIP in with the Big Cahoona in the Sky. Now America needs to adopt females to run the Government because they all have proved far too long that they can't be trusted as far as you can throw them.

Posted by: JWTX | April 6, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Chief Mankiller was the best by a long shot of any of the Oklahoma political leaders. Too bad the rest of us didn't get to vote for her to clean out the mess the men have made in our state. Stack her up against DR. Coburn who seems to wish death on those he disagrees with. What a doctor.

RIP Chief. You have left us way too soon.

Posted by: littleoldlady | April 6, 2010 5:22 PM | Report abuse

She spoke of not wanting the Indian Nations to be formed just to be the dumping ground EPA had no authority on.

I hope someone picks up her private pet peeve and chants on.

Posted by: dottydo | April 6, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

Back in 93', I attended a Student Women's Leadership Conference in DC, and remember the pride I felt as, a native woman to witness her induction into the National Hall of Fame. As a stage IV native woman currently fighting cancer -again; reading her words as she prepared to make this final journey, (WOW!) she continues to be my role model. Jennifer Joseph, Colville Tribe

Posted by: treelady_jj | April 6, 2010 6:58 PM | Report abuse

Memorial for Wilma Mankiller. Feel free to express your thoughts

Posted by: gfrison | April 7, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

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