Wilma Mankiller

By: Mick Yates

It was here that she was exposed to the harsh reality of urban poverty. Wilma's concern for Native American issues was always apparent. However her real work began on Alcatraz Island in 1969 when, with a group of students, she participated in a bid to attract attention to the issues affecting American tribes. Wilma assisted in securing grants to enable the launch of critical rural programs, and in 1981 she founded the Cherokee Community Development Department.

In 1983 Wilma succeeded in running for Deputy of the Cherokee nation, and in 1987 she was officially elected the first female in modern history to become Chief of a major Native American Tribe. Wilma went on to make the issues of education and healthcare the Tribal priorities. During her tenure, £20 million was raised for such causes, with the largest Cherokee health clinic being established. Throughout her career, Wilma was the target of much intimidation and criticism but despite this, her contribution led to the establishment of better social and economical conditions for the Tribe.

She has exemplified leadership in perseverance, commitment, and the empowerment of others and has succeeded in altering the political landscape of the Cherokee Nation for ever. Wilma was eventually forced to retire from her role due to ill heath. However she is still an active spiritual and cultural leader within her community.

Melanie Smith