“I think I am becoming a woman’s
libber in my old age!”(35)
A Glimpse of the Past : Wilma Mankiller, sworn in at Tahlequah, Oklahoma
the capital of the Cherokee Nation, became
the first female chief of the second largest
tribe in the United States. The history of
the Cherokee Nation is a long and painful one.
As part of Andrew Jackson’s Indian removal
policy the Cherokees embarked on the infamous
Trail of Tears in 1838-1839 where 17,000 Cherokee
Indians were relocated from their homeland
in Georgia to Indian Territory in Oklahoma,
4000 of which died along the way. Their nation
was again torn apart during the American Civil
War when the Cherokee Nation split, half in favor of
the southern cause, themselves slave owners,
and half in favor of northern emancipation.
Emerging from Struggle: Out of those significant struggles to survive, physically and culturally, came a re-strengthened
and more unified tribal interested in multifaceted
development. As Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation,
Wilma focused on employment and the economy
in a delicate balance with preservation of
culture and heritage. The progress of the Cherokee
Nation’s economic development has led
to an economy of its own including many businesses
and even a hydroelectric generating plant.
In February, 1987, Wilma came to Mount Holyoke
to speak on “The Changing role of the
American Indian Woman” focusing on the journey of assimilation and the recent desire to preserve Cherokee culture. Wilma also talked about the Cherokee connection to Mount Holyoke and how that effected the educational, social, and cultural identities of her people.