Wilma Mankiller

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Wilma Mankiller in 2001
If I am to be remembered, I want it to be because I am fortunate enough to have become my tribe's first female chief. But I also want to be remembered for emphasizing the fact that we have indigenous solutions to our problems. Cherokee values, especially those of helping one another and of our interconnections with the land, can be used to address contemporary issues.

Wilma Pearl Mankiller (Cherokee: ᎠᏥᎳᏍᎩ ᎠᏍᎦᏯᏗᎯ; November 18, 1945 – April 6, 2010) was an American Cherokee activist, social worker, community developer and the first woman elected to serve as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.

Quotes[edit]

  • One of the issues that I wanted to comment on, and probably the most important issue today for the record, is the issue of self-governance.
  • Always there are these great speeches about supporting tribal governments and that sort of thing in Washington from the leadership, but it needs to permeate every layer of these agencies, people we deal with on a day-to-day basis.

Northern Arizona Commencement Speech (1992)[edit]

In So Here I Am: Speeches by great women to empower and inspire (2019)

  • There still exists in this country many negative stereotypes about black people, Latin people, and Asian people. God knows there are terrible stereotypes about Native Americans; these have to be overcome before we can move forward.
  • I would urge all of you who are here today, both graduates and families, to examine the extent to which we hold those stereotypes about one another. And finally, I would hope my being here and spending just a couple of minutes with you today would help you to eliminate any stereotypes you might have about what a chief looks like.

Mankiller: A Chief and Her People (1993)[edit]

  • Europeans brought with them the view that men were the absolute head of households, and women were to be submissive to them. It was then that the role of women in Cherokee society began to decline. One of the new values Europeans brought to the Cherokees was a lack of balance and harmony between men and women. It was what we today call sexism. This was not a Cherokee concept. Sexism was borrowed from Europeans.
  • From the start, I figured most people would be bothered about my ideas on grass-roots democracy and the fact that I had a fairly extensive activist background. I adhered to a different political philosophy than many people living in the area. But I was wrong. No one challenged me on those issues, not once. Instead, I was challenged mostly because of one fact-I am female.
  • I heard all sorts of things-some people claimed that my running for office was an affront to God. Others said having a female run our tribe would make the Cherokees the laughing stock of the tribal world. I heard it all. Every time I was given yet another silly reason why I should not help run our government, I was certain that I had made the correct decision.
  • The reaction to my candidacy stunned me. It was a very low time in my life, but I would not be swayed. I figured the best tactic was to ignore my opponents. I remembered a saying I had once read on the back of a tea box. It said something like this-if you argue with a fool, someone passing by will not be able to tell who is the fool and who is not. I did not wish to be taken for a fool.
  • Rural development was, and still remains, a high priority on my list of goals. For me, the rewards came from attempting to break the circle of poverty. My feeling is that the Cherokee people, by and large, are incredibly tenacious. We have survived so many major political and social upheavals, yet we have kept the Cherokee government alive. I feel confident that we will march into the twenty-first century on our own terms.
  • Today, we are helping to erase the stereotypes created by media and by western films of the drunken Indian on a horse, chasing wagon trains across the prairie. I suppose some people still think that all native people live in tepees and wear tribal garb every day. They do not realize that many of us wear businesssuits and drive station wagons. The beauty of society today is that young Cherokee men and women can pursue any professional fields they want and remain true to traditional values. It all comes back to our heritage and our roots. It is so vital that we retain that sense of culture, history, and tribal identity.
  • Today, if anyone asks members of our tribe if it really matters if the chief is male or female, the majority will reply that gender has no bearing on leadership.
  • Because I have risen to the office of chief, some people erroneously conclude that the role of native women has changed in every tribe. That is not so. People jump to that conclusion because they do not really understand native people. There is no universal "Indian language." All of us have our own distinct languages and cultures...Because Native Americans have our own languages, cultures, art forms, and social systems, our tribes are radically different from one another. Many tribal groups do not have women in titled positions, but in the great majority of those groups, there is some degree of balance and harmony in the roles of men and women.
  • I try to 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....
  • If I am to be remembered, I want it to be because I am fortunate enough to have become my tribe's first female chief. But I also want to be remembered for emphasizing the fact that we have indigenous solutions to our problems. Cherokee values, especially those of helping one another and of our interconnections with the land, can be used to address contemporary issues.

External links[edit]

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