Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010

Wilma Mankiller

I met Wilma Mankiller more than 20 years ago when she joined the board of the Ms. Foundation for Women. We bonded over everything from activism and humor to the health challenges she faced — always with courage. She made history when she was elected the first woman principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. Wilma's humor and strength were captured best by her response to the inevitable questions about her name. When asked politely, she'd explain that it was an honorific for one who protects the group. When asked not so politely, she'd say, "I earned it." Her success in achieving economic autonomy for her people made her a symbol of hope for original cultures and women's movements around the world. Ancient traditions call for setting signal fires to light the way home for a great one; fires were lit in 23 countries after Wilma's death. The millions she touched will continue her work, but I will miss her every day of my life.

Gloria Steinem

Steinem is an organizer and author