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Wilma Mankiller

 

Publicity Shot of Wilma for her talk at Mount Holyoke College, 1987. Courtesy of MHC Archives.

 
 
 

“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.

 

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This page was created by Melissa Joyce '08 in History 283, Spring Semester 2006 -meljoyce@mtholyoke.edu