First Female Chief of Cherokee Nation
Wilma Mankiller, fully Wilma Pearl Mankiller
First Female Chief of Cherokee Nation
An Indian is an Indian regardless of the degree of Indian blood or which little government card they do or do not possess.
Individually and collectively, Cherokee people possess an extraordinary ability to face down adversity and continue moving forward.
Though many non-Native Americans have learned very little about us, over time we have had to learn everything about them. We watch their films, read their literature, worship in their churches, and attend their schools. Every third-grade student in the United States is presented with the concept of Europeans discovering America as a "New World" with fertile soil, abundant gifts of nature, and glorious mountains and rivers. Only the most enlightened teachers will explain that this world certainly wasn't new to the millions of indigenous people who already lived here when Columbus arrived.
But what I learned from my experience in living in a community of almost all African-American people, and what I learned from my experience in living in my own community in Oklahoma before the relocation is that poor people have a much, much greater capacity for solving their own problems than most people give them credit for.
It should be remembered that hundreds of people of African ancestry also walked the Trail of Tears with the Cherokee during the forced removal of 1838-1839. Although we know about the terrible human suffering of our native people and the members of other tribes during the removal, we rarely hear of those black people who also suffered.
We are a people with many, many social indicators of decline and an awful lot of problems, so in the fifties they decided to mainstream us, to try to take us away from the tribal land-base and the tribal culture, get us into the cities.
Cows run away from the storm while the buffalo charges toward it - and gets through it quicker. Whenever I?m confronted with a tough challenge, I do not prolong the torment, I become the buffalo.
It was on Alcatraz...where at long last some Native Americans, including me, truly began to regain our balance.
We celebrate Thanksgiving along with the rest of America, maybe in different ways and for different reasons. Despite everything that's happened to us since we fed the Pilgrims, we still have our language, our culture, our distinct social system. Even in a nuclear age, we still have a tribal people.
Every single person has leadership ability. Some step up and take them. Some don't. My answer was to step up and lead.
It was supposed to be a better life.
We must trust our own thinking. Trust where we're going. And get the job done.
Everybody is sitting around saying, 'Well, jeez, we need somebody to solve this problem of bias.' That somebody is us. We all have to try to figure out a better way to get along.
It's like everybody's sitting there and they have some kind of veil over their face, and they look at each other through this veil that makes them see each other through some stereotypical kind of viewpoint. If we're ever gonna collectively begin to grapple with the problems that we have collectively, we're gonna have to move back the veil and deal with each other on a more human level.
Western movies always seemed to show Indian women washing clothes at the creek and men with a tomahawk or spear in their hands, adorned with lots of feathers. That image has stayed in some people's minds. Many think we're either visionaries, `noble savages,' squaw drudges or tragic alcoholics. We're very rarely depicted as real people who have greater tenacity in terms of trying to hang on to our culture and values system than most people.
Growth is a painful process. If we?re ever going to collectively begin to grapple with the problems that we have collectively, we?re going to have to move back the veil and deal with each other on a more human level.
I've run into more discrimination as a woman than as an Indian.
We've had daunting problems in many critical areas, but I believe in the old Cherokee injunction to be of a good mind. Today it's called positive thinking.
I came to the position with absolute faith and confidence in our own people and our own ability to solve our own problems.
Most people like to deal with us as though we were in a museum or a history book.
Whoever controls the education of our children controls the future.
I don't think anybody anywhere can talk about the future of their people or of an organization without talking about education. Whoever controls the education of our children controls our future.
My name is Mankiller, and in the old Cherokee Nation, when we lived here in the Southeast, we lived in semi-autonomous villages, and there was someone who watched over the village, who had the title of mankiller. And I'm not sure what you could equate that to, but it was sort of like a soldier or someone who was responsible for the security of the village, and so anyway this one fellow liked the title mankiller so well that he kept it as his name, and that's who we trace our ancestry back to.
Women in leadership roles can help restore balance and wholeness to our communities.
I experienced my own Trail of Tears when I was a young girl. No one pointed a gun at me or at members of my family. No show of force was used. It was not necessary. Nevertheless, the United States government through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was again trying to settle the 'Indian problem' by removal. I learned through this ordeal about the fear and anguish that occur when you give up your home, your community, and everything you have ever known to move far away to a strange place. I cried for days, not unlike the children who had stumbled down the Trail of Tears so many years before. 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.