A strong Cherokee woman with a heart for her home and her people, Wilma Mankiller, who died April 6 at 64, shrugged off the perceived novelty of her gender when she became the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1985.
Instead, she focused on providing opportunities for Cherokee people to help themselves. To Wilma, Cherokee people were not wards of the U.S. government, in need of assistance from Washington. No, she saw Cherokees as having everything they needed to succeed except opportunity. The success of the Cherokee Nation today is based on the fundamental principles she espoused.
Despite her many accomplishments--she was an author, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and a distinguished professor--nothing could pry her from the people and places she loved best. Even in her passing, she remains a loyal leader.
Her ashes are to be scattered at her beloved home in Mankiller Flats, in rural Oklahoma. In her last days she wrote: "I would like them to bury something after today. I would like them to bury any unkindness or anger or hurtful things I may have done. Bury those with me."
Smith is principal chief of the Cherokee Nation