DCS: wilma mankiller

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The sixth of eleven children, Wilma Mankiller was born in 1945 in Oklahoma. Her father was a full-blooded Cherokee. Her mother was of Dutch and English heritage. Wilma grew up in her family’s ancestral home — without running water, electricity or telephones. In an act that echoed her family’s history, the Mankillers were moved to San Francisco under the federal government’s Bureau of Indian Affairs’ relocation policy. Wilma reflected upon this as her own “Trail of Tears,” referencing her paternal ancestors’ forced relocation under a similar governmental edict in the 1830s.

At 24, Wilma’s life was changed by the rebellious actions of group of Native Americans who took over the federal penitentiary on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay and laid claim to it by ‘right of discovery’ to expose the suffering of American Indians. She was awakened to the mistreatment of Native Americans and dedicated her life to working for Native American rights. As director of the Oakland’s Native American Youth Center, Wilma personally fought for California’s Pit River tribe in its legal land battle with Pacific Gas and Electric.

In 1977, after a divorce, Wilma and her two daughters moved back to Oklahoma. She founded the Community Development Department for the Cherokee Nation. The organization campaigned for access to water and housing for Native Americans. She became a voice of the Cherokee Nation, working for better healthcare, housing and education. In 1985, she was elected Chief of the Cherokee Nation — the first woman to hold the esteemed position. Under her leadership, the Cherokee Nation flourished — including a budget that ballooned to $150 million annually from revenue from gaming, hospitality, natural resources and other Native American-operated businesses.

Wilma was named Ms. Magazine’s “Woman of the Year” in 1987. She was inducted into the Woman’s Hall of Fame in 1993 and was awarded the the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton ion 1998. She was asked to contribute a pair of shoes to a Native American art exhibit. She sent an ordinary pair of shoes, saying these were the shoes she wore everywhere.

Wilma passed away in 2010 at the age of 64. Her funeral was attended by government officials, women’s rights activists, Cherokee Nation dignitaries and multitudes of people she had inspired.



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