Saturday, April 10, 2010

Wilma Mankiller, Nov. 18, 1945 – April 6, 2010

Wilma Mankiller, who served as principal chief of the Cherokee Nation during the 1990s, died April 6 of pancreatic cancer. She was the first woman to serve in that office, and an important leader of American Indians nationwide at a time when the Indian nations were gaining power and influence. She was 64.

Mankiller's obituary in Indian Country Today, a newspaper that serves Native American readers nationwide from its headquarters in New York state, summed up her career by saying as principal chief she "empowered the Cherokee people with the traditional spirit of self-reliance and interdependence once again" and she "proved time and again, that she was not afraid to roll up her sleeves and take an active role, earning her the respect and admiration of her fellow tribal members."

Correspondent Patti Jo King, who wrote the obit, said:
Throughout her life, Mankiller referred to herself as a feminist, and she took her work very seriously. At the same time, she also had a playful side and skillfully indulged in “Indian humor.” For instance, there was the time a student puzzled over how to address her as a female “chief.” She instructed him to call her “Ms. Chief” (mischief). Another student asked about the origins of her last name. She informed him that it was actually a nickname, and that she had earned it.

Whether people agreed with her politics or not, Mankiller was loved by nearly everyone who knew her. She leaves behind an incredible legacy in Oklahoma, and the news of her death has elicited a tidal wave of condolences and expressions of sadness.
The name Mankiller, by the way, is a traditional Cherokee family name. It was given to families who guarded Cherokee villages in the old days.

Let's go on a tangent today and read Mankiller's obit. She was an important person in the rebirth of Native cultures in America. While we're at it, we ought to take a look at Indian Country Today. Owned by a corporation affiliated with the Oneida Nation, it seeks to provide "an American Indian perspective of unparalleled clarity, consistency, credibility, and focus" and adds, "Whether reporting from the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. or conveying the pounding energy of a Southern plains pow wow, Indian Country Today's talented news team finds the essence of what's happening in Indian country and carries it faithfully to our readers." At any rate, its pages do reflect the diversity and complexity of life in Indian country today.

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