Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Wilma Mankiller, fully Wilma Pearl Mankiller

First Female Chief of Cherokee Nation

"The meaning of life is to live in balance and harmony with every other living thing in creation. We must all strive to understand the interconnectedness of all living things and accept our individual role in the protection and support of other life forms on earth. We must also understand our own insignificance in the totality of things."

"America would be a better place if leaders would do more long-term thinking."

"An Indian is an Indian regardless of the degree of Indian blood or which little government card they do or do not possess."

"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."

"A significant number of people believe tribal people still live and dress as they did 300 years ago. During my tenure as principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, national news agencies requesting interviews sometimes asked if they could film a tribal dance or if I would wear traditional tribal clothing for the interview. I doubt they asked the president of the United States to dress like a pilgrim for an interview."

"A lot of young girls have looked to their career paths and have said they'd like to be chief. There's been a change in the limits people see."

"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."

"Every single person has leadership ability. Some step up and take them. Some don't. My answer was to step up and lead."

"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."

"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 came to the position with absolute faith and confidence in our own people and our own ability to solve our own problems."

"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."

"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."

"I had no job, very little money, no car, had no idea what I was going to do, but knew it was time to go home."

"I learned a long time ago that I can't control the challenges the creator sends my way, but I can control the way I think about them and deal with them."

"I think the most important issue we have as a people is what we started, and that is to begin to trust our own thinking again and belive in ourselves enough to think that we can articulate our own vision of the future and then work to make sure that that vision becomes a reality."

"I want to be remembered as the person who helped us restore faith in ourselves."

"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."

"If you argue with a fool, someone passing by will not be able to tell who is the fool and who is not."

"In Iroquois society, leaders are encouraged to remember seven generations in the past and consider seven generations in the future when making decisions that affect the people."

"Individually and collectively, Cherokee people possess an extraordinary ability to face down adversity and continue moving forward."

"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."

"It was on Alcatraz...where at long last some Native Americans, including me, truly began to regain our balance."

"It was supposed to be a better life."

"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."

"I've run into more discrimination as a woman than as an Indian."

"Most people like to deal with us as though we were in a museum or a history book."

"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."

"One of the things my parents taught me, and I'll always be grateful as a gift, is to not ever let anybody else define me; that for me to define myself . . . and I think that helped me a lot in assuming a leadership position."

"Prior to my election, young Cherokee girls would never have thought that they might grow up and become chief."

"She likened her job to running a small country, a medium corporation, and being a social worker."

"The happiest people I've ever met, regardless of their profession, their social standing, or their economic status, are people that are fully engaged in the world around them. The most fulfilled people are the ones who get up every morning and stand for something larger than themselves. They are the people who care about others, who will extend a helping hand to someone in need or will speak up about an injustice when they see it."

"The secret of our success is that we never, never give up."

"There are a whole lot of historical factors that have played a part in our being where we are today, and I think that to even to begin to understand our contemporary issues and contemporary problems, you have to understand a little bit about that history."

"There are the extremes on both sides. There are those who have turned their backs on being Cherokee. Then we have a few who refuse to speak much English and think children should only play stickball, not baseball or football. They are suspicious of the non-Indian world, thinking too much assimilation will cause one to stop thinking Cherokee."

"There were a significant number of people in this country that were still questioning whether Indians were human."

"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."

"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."

"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."

"We must trust our own thinking. Trust where we're going. And get the job done."

"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."

"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."

"Whoever controls the education of our children controls the future."

"Women in leadership roles can help restore balance and wholeness to our communities."