Former Cherokee Nation chief speaks at UI

By Nick Escobar

The former principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, Wilma Mankiller, will speak today on the changing role of American Indian women at 7 p.m. on the third floor of the Levis Faculty Center.

Growing up in the rural community of Mankiller Flats in Adair County, Okla., Mankiller began her political activism in 1969. To protest the treatment of American Indians, she participated in a sit-in at Alcatraz Island in San Francisco with her siblings. Her family had moved to San Francisco as part of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Relocation Program when she was 10.

“She (represents) female empowerment,” said John McKinn, assistant director of the Native American House. “She combats patriarchal roles in society by using herself as an example.”

Mankiller was also the founding director of the Cherokee Nation Community Development Department. Elected as the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1987, Mankiller was later re-elected in 1991. She chose not to seek re-election in l995.

Mankiller, an author and activist, was chosen to speak on campus as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative symposium, which hosts programs that involve the campus and community, advancing King’s idea of a “moral revolution,” according to the Web site for the program.

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Mankiller has written several books on the topic of American Indian women. She has recently finished a book comprised of interviews with indigenous women called Every Day Is a Good Day: Reflections of Contemporary Indigenous Women. The book focuses on 19 different women ranging from artists to an attorney. It deals with the topics of spirituality, sovereignty and what it means to be an indigenous woman in today’s society and features an introduction by Gloria Steinem.

“She is a very dynamic person,” said Ellen Foran, coordinator of special projects for the Office of the Chancellor. “She’s had so many important roles.”

She has published several other books including Mankiller: a Chief and Her People and co-edited A Readers’ Companion to the History of Women in the U.S.

“Even with a staggering set of problems, indigenous women look forward to the future,” said Mankiller said in a press release.

She has also met with three U.S. Presidents to discuss tribal issues. Along with Navajo Nation President Peterson Zah, she co-chaired a national conference among American Indian tribes that would lead to the creation of the Office of Indian Justice inside the U.S. Department of Justice.

“She represents social justice,” McKinn said. “She brings national exposure to the discrimination of Native Americans.”

The lecture will last until 8 p.m. and a question and answer session will follow. This is the second to last lecture of the symposium. Dr. Mary Francis Berry will speak on the Changing Worlds of Black America at the last lecture on April 4.

“Our unique tribal worldview has enabled our culture and governments to endure war, relocation, loss of land and lives,” Mankiller said. “And it is that worldview that has allowed me to remain positive.”