Wilma Mankiller was a force to be reckoned, but she was a force that made a difference for her people in a changing world.
Mankiller, who served as principal chief for 10 years, died Tuesday from pancreatic cancer. She was 64.
Mankiller came to national and international prominence in 1985, when she became principal chief. It was a time when Native American tribes were beginning to challenge subservience to federal and state governments, and assert their own powers.
She was made for that role. As accounts of her life point out, during her tenure, Cherokee membership increased from 55,000 to 170,000 and the nation’s budget and employment nearly doubled.
While a soft-spoken person publicly, Mankiller never feared speaking out on women’s and Native American issues. She convinced many radio stations in Oklahoma to quit playing Tim McGraw’s song “Indian Outlaw,” which she and many others found offensive to Native Americans.
Mankiller suffered from a number of illnesses, but they never seemed to slow her down or interfere with her advocacy for the Cherokee Nation.
She was also a hard-nosed politician and a touch autocratic, but she also was the picture of grace and affability. She deserves all the accolades she has received.