Wilma Mankiller: Good Times and Bad
“I wept tears that came from deep within the Cherokee part of me.
They were tears from my history, from my tribe’s past. They were Cherokee tears.”
—Wilma P. Mankiller
Wilma Mankiller was the first woman chief of the Cherokee Nation. She worked to get better education and health care for her people, but her own life was not easy.
Ms. Mankiller was born in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, in November 1945. She was one of 11 children. Until she was 10, she lived in Mankiller Flats, Oklahoma. Then her family moved to San Francisco. The U.S. government had promised them a better life if they would move. But that better life did not happen.
Although her life was not easy, Ms. Mankiller went to both high school and college. It was at San Francisco State College that she met Hector Hugo Olaya de Bardi. They got married and had two daughters.
In 1974 Ms. Mankiller and her husband got divorced. Wilma moved back to Oklahoma in 1976 and was determined to help her people. She went to graduate school, but she had more personal problems during that time.
One day Ms. Mankiller was in a car accident. She was not hurt, but the person in the other car died. This person was Wilma’s best friend. Later, Ms. Mankiller found out that she had myasthenia gravis, a serious muscle disease.
This was not the only time Ms. Mankiller had faced suffering. In 1960 her brother died of serious burns. In 1971 her father died of kidney disease. Because she had the same disease, Wilma had a kidney transplant in 1990.
Ms. Mankiller did help her people, even though she had these personal struggles. In 1985, she was appointed chief of the Cherokee Nation. She was re-elected in 1987 and 1991. While she was chief, membership in the tribe increased from 55,000 to 156,000.
Wilma Mankiller has won many honors. She is in the Oklahoma Women’s Hall of Fame, the International Women’s Forum Hall of Fame, and the National Women’s Hall of Fame. She also received the Distinguished Leadership Award of the Harvard Foundation.
Alice Walker, an author, said, “Wilma Mankiller is someone I feel I’ve known in this lifetime and many lifetimes before. I recognize in her the greatest beauty, dignity, and truthfulness.” She inspires all of us.
Even after Ms. Mankiller was no longer chief, she still gave speeches to young women until her death in 2010. She overcame great odds to become the first woman chief of the Cherokee Nation. Learning about Wilma Mankiller has inspired me to keep working toward my goals, no matter what.
Wilma Mankiller: Good Times and Bad by Thoughtful Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at k12.thoughtfullearning.com/assessmentmodels/wilma-mankiller-good-times-and-bad.