Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Passing of a feminist icon: 1st female Chief of Cherokee Nation

It is with deep sadness that I write about the passing of yet another feminist icon of the second wave.  We have lost too many recently.  Which is why we must work that much harder to make sure the longest revolution - feminism - must succeed.

In Solidarity,
Jerin Alam
National NOW Young Feminist Task Force
NOW - NYS Young Feminist Task Force
National Organization for Women (NOW)

From Wikipedia
Wilma Pearl Mankiller (November 18, 1945 – April 6, 2010) was the first female Chief of the Cherokee Nation. She served as the Principal Chief for ten years from 1985 to 1995.

By 1983, she was elected deputy chief of the Cherokee Nation,[14] alongside Ross Swimmer, who was serving his third consecutive term as principal chief. In 1985, Chief Swimmer resigned to take the position as head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. This allowed Mankiller to become the first female principal chief.  She was freely elected in 1987, and re-elected again in 1991 in a landslide victory, collecting 83% of the vote. In 1995, Mankiller chose not to run again for Chief largely due to health problems.

Mankiller faced many obstacles during her tenure in office. At the time she became chief, the Cherokee Nation was male-dominated. Such a structure contrasted with the traditional Cherokee culture and value system, which instead emphasized a balance between the two genders. Over the course of her three terms, Mankiller would make great strides to bring back that balance and reinvigorate the Cherokee Nation through community-development projects where men and women work collectively for the common good, based on the Bureau of Indian Affairs "Self Help" programs first initiated by the United Keetoowah Band, and with the help of the Federal Governments Self-Determination monies. These projects included establishing tribally owned businesses (such as horticultural operations and plants with government defense contracts), improving infrastructure ( such as providing running water to the community of Bell, Oklahoma), and building a hydroelectric facility.

Under the US Federal policy of Native American self-determination, Mankiller was able to improve federal-tribal negotiations, paving the way for today's Government-to-Government relationship the Cherokee Nation has with the US Federal Government.

Examples of progress included the founding of the Cherokee Nation Community Development Department, the revival of Sequoyah High School in Tahlequah, and a population increase of Cherokee Nation citizens from 55,000 to 156,000. "Prior to my election," says Mankiller, "young Cherokee girls would never have thought that they might grow up and become chief."

Statement by President Obama on the Passing of Wilma Mankiller:"I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Wilma Mankiller today. As the Cherokee Nation’s first female chief, she transformed the Nation-to-Nation relationship between the Cherokee Nation and the Federal Government, and served as an inspiration to women in Indian Country and across America. A recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, she was recognized for her vision and commitment to a brighter future for all Americans. Her legacy will continue to encourage and motivate all who carry on her work. Michelle and I offer our condolences to Wilma’s family, especially her husband Charlie and two daughters, Gina and Felicia, as well as the Cherokee Nation and all those who knew her and were touched by her good works."

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