Wednesday, April 7, 2010

We Mourn the Loss of Wilma Mankiller

Photograph taken by K Smokey Cormier at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C, May 2005

We mourn the loss of Wilma Mankiller. We loved her. We didn’t know her but we loved her. We loved her for her perseverance. Perseverance is a very underrated quality. And, what is it that makes the most difference in your daily life ... and in the lives of much of humanity? Perseverance. L. Frank Baum should have written in another character for the Wizard of Oz ... one that needed perseverance. Although, I guess, courage comes close.

Being a lesbian, I always wondered about her last name. I was often called “man hater” by various people as a pejorative for “lesbian.” According to Wikipedia:
The family surname, Mankiller, is a traditional Cherokee military rank and is Asgaya-dihi in Cherokee,[5] which is alternatively spelled Outacity[6] or Outacite.
Wilma Mankiller also had ties with the San Francisco Bay Area and my beloved Oakland:
The Mankiller family lived on Charley’s allotment lands of Mankiller Flats near Rocky Mountain, Oklahoma. In 1942 the US Army declared 45 Cherokee families’ allotment lands, near those of Mankiller’s family, in order to expand Camp Gruber. The Mankillers willingly left under the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Indian Relocation Program. They moved to San Francisco, California in 1956 and later Daly City.

In 1963, at the age of 17, Mankiller married Hector Hugo Olaya de Bardi, an Ecuadorian college student. They moved to Oakland and had two daughters, Felicia Olaya, born in 1964, and Gina Olaya, born in 1966.

Mankiller returned to school, first at Skyline College, and then San Francisco State University. She had been very involved in San Francisco’s Indian Center throughout her time in California. In the late 1960s, Mankiller joined the activist movement and participated in the Occupation of Alcatraz Island in 1969. For five years, she volunteered for the Pit River Tribe.
She moved back to Oklahoma and her ancestral home, Mankiller Flats, after she divorced her husband and, when the chief of the Cherokees resigned, Wilma Mankiller became the first woman to be a principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. She was elected in 1987 for another term and then re-elected in 1991. Perseverance:
Mankiller faced many obstacles during her tenure in office. At the time she became chief, the Cherokee Nation was male-dominated. Such a structure contrasted with the traditional Cherokee culture and value system, which instead emphasized a balance between the two genders. Over the course of her three terms, Mankiller would make great strides to bring back that balance and reinvigorate the Cherokee Nation through community-development projects where men and women work collectively for the common good, based on the Bureau of Indian Affairs "Self Help" programs first initiated by the United Keetoowah Band, and with the help of the Federal Governments Self-Determination monies. These projects included establishing tribally owned businesses (such as horticultural operations and plants with government defense contracts), improving infrastructure ( such as providing running water to the community of Bell, Oklahoma), and building a hydroelectric facility.
President Obama released this statement:
"I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Wilma Mankiller today. As the Cherokee Nation’s first female chief, she transformed the Nation-to-Nation relationship between the Cherokee Nation and the Federal Government, and served as an inspiration to women in Indian Country and across America. A recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, she was recognized for her vision and commitment to a brighter future for all Americans. Her legacy will continue to encourage and motivate all who carry on her work. Michelle and I offer our condolences to Wilma’s family, especially her husband Charlie and two daughters, Gina and Felicia, as well as the Cherokee Nation and all those who knew her and were touched by her good works."
Want to read about her ... in her own words?
You can read her first book, Mankiller: A Chief and Her People, an autobiography, which became a national bestseller.

In addition to her mother, she is survived by her husband, Charlie Soap; her daughters, Gina Olaya and Felicia Olaya, both of Tahlequah; several brothers and sisters, and four grandchildren.

We send our most sincere condolences to her family and friends.

Wikipedia biography: Go here.

Her obituary in today's New York Times: Go here.

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