Woman of the Month: Wilma Mankiller

Woman of the Month is a feature on my blog where each month I highlight a woman in the world who I think garners recognition. I started this mainly to increase Girl Power and empowerment, and because there’s a lot of women I feel are overlooked and I wanted to bring attention to them.

This month, I’m highlighting Wilma Mankiller (A-ji-luhsgi Asgaya-dihi).

Wilma Mankiller

Wilma Mankiller was a Cherokee woman who worked as an activist, social worker, community developer and was the first woman elected to serve as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. She worked with the Cherokee Nation as an economic stimulus coordinator, and created and directed the Community Development Department. As the Principal Chief, Mankiller aimed to bring awareness of the gender politics within the Nation and how it was largely influenced by colonization.

When Mankiller left office, the population of the Cherokee Nation had increased from 68,000 to 170,000 citizens. The tribe was generating annual revenues of approximately $25 million and she had secured federal assistance of $125 million annually to assist with education, health, housing and employment programs. She had also obtained the tribe’s grant for “self-governance”.

After she left office, she became a visiting professor at Dartmouth College, where she taught in the Native American Studies program. She co-edited the The Reader’s Companion to U.S. Women’s History, published in 1999, contributed to the book, That Takes Ovaries!: Bold Females and Their Brazen Acts, and in 2004, co-authored Every Day Is a Good Day: Reflections by Contemporary Indigenous Women. She worked with the Oklahoma Breast Cancer Summit to encourage early screening and raise awareness on the disease.

She was chosen as American Indian Woman of the Year and inducted into the Oklahoma Women’s Hall of Fame. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Clinton in 1998, and the Elizabeth Blackwell Award from Hobart and William Smith Colleges for her exemplary service to humanity. She gave the Centennial Lecture in the Humanities for Oklahoma’s 100th anniversary of statehood and was honoured with the inaugural Oklahoma Humanities Award by the Oklahoma Humanities Council. She was posthumously presented with the Drum Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Five Civilized Tribes. She had 14 honorary doctorates when she passed away. A scholarship in her honour was created to pay travel expenses for women to attend the Women Empowering Women for Indian Nations (WEWIN) conference, an annual women’s conference hosted to promote and empower indigenous women leadership, which Mankiller had been a founding board member.

I had been wanting to highlight a Native American woman for a long time, and Mankiller seemed like such a great one to start with. Her list of achievements is insanely long.

Thanks for reading! xx

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