Wilma Mankiller


Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Wilma Mankiller, Photograph, 1992. Courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society.

Profession: Cherokee Chief

Hometown: Tahlequah

Inducted: 1994

Wilma Mankiller had an early passion for Native American activism. After receiving a bachelor's degree in social sciences from San Francisco State University in 1972, Mankiller brought her social welfare skills back to Oklahoma. Mankiller's first project was in Bell, Oklahoma, where she led the construction of an improved water system for the reservation. Determined to improve the lives of Cherokee people, she went on to hold many important leadership positions, including the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.

Wilma Mankiller's legacy as an optimistic and pioneering leader made a deep impact on the Cherokee Nation. She was the first Director of the Community Development Department (1980-1983), the first female Deputy Principal Chief (1983-1985) and the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation (1985-1995). Mankiller oversaw a number of important projects, including helping secure $125 million in federal assistance for education, health, housing, and employment programs in the Cherokee Nation. Further, she worked with the federal government to improve welfare protocols for all Native Americans. Mankiller's tireless work and perseverance in paving a way for women to hold more leadership roles was recognized when she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton in 1988.

Impact Map

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