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The last word.

When Wilma Mankiller's family left their farm in Oklahoma for brighter possibilities in San Francisco, Wilma didn't feel like much of a SuperShero. "In school I was teased a lot and labeled as different because I had an unusual last name, spoke with an Oklahoma accent, and looked 'ethnic,'" she recalled. When she first arrived in California, Wilma, who was born in 1945, felt out of place with her classmates because she had never spoken on a phone or used a flush toilet.

Wilma married at age 17 and had two daughters, Felicia and Gina. Like other women of that time, she was expected to focus only on being a wife and mother, despite her interest in the growing movements for Native American rights, women's rights, and other causes. She soon got involved in community issues, drawing inspiration from other resourceful single mothers at the San Francisco Indian Center, and strong foremothers such as her mother and grandmother.

When Wilma returned to Oklahoma with her daughters, she decided to run for chief of the Cherokee Nation, even though many were opposed to the idea of a woman leading the tribe.

Wilma believed that the Cherokee Nation should return to traditions from the tribe's early days, when Cherokee women held important roles in Cherokee government and in tribal life. In 1985, Wilma became the first-ever Cherokee Nation chief, and she went on to won three landslide re-elections!

Wilma channeled her activist spirit into expanding social programs such as health clinics, job programs, and youth outreach to improve the daily life of her people. She revitalized the Cherokee Nation over her 12 years of service, partly by making a special effort to encourage women into leadership roles. She went on to teach at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, and died on April 6, 201 0.

In the years since Wilma was chief, the number of top female leaders in Native American tribes has more than doubled. Wilma's brave action has created an unstoppable legacy!


Find out more about Wilma's life and the Cherokee Nation by searching "Super" at You can learn some Cherokee words, too!

"Friends describe me as someone who likes ice along the edge of the roof ... I encourage young women to be willing to take risks, to stand up for the things they believe in, and to step up and accept the challenge of serving in leadership roles.

--Wilma Mankiller, First Female Chief of the Cherokee Nation"

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Title Annotation:Wilma Mankiller
Publication:New Moon Girls
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2010
Previous Article:CALENDAR.
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