Mankiller served 10 years as principal chief of the Cherokee, the second-largest U.S. tribe, and became its first freely elected leader in 1987. President Clinton awarded her the Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. civilian honor, in 1998.
"Our personal and national hearts are heavy with sorrow and sadness with the passing this morning of Wilma Mankiller," said Chad Smith, her successor as chief of the Oklahoma-based tribe. "We feel overwhelmed and lost when we realize she has left us, but we should reflect on what legacy she leaves us. We are better people and a stronger tribal nation because of her example of Cherokee leadership, statesmanship, humility, grace, determination and decisiveness."
By Rob Capriccioso
Mankiller was best known for her leadership of her tribe, at which she served 12 years in elective office, the first two as deputy principal chief followed by 10 years as principal chief.
During her time in office and beyond, she was viewed nationwide as a strong Native American advocate, and had many friends in the women’s rights movement.
Mankiller retired from public office in 1995, but was never far from the public eye, serving as a board member on various organizations, including the Women Empowering Women for Indian Nations nonprofit. She also shared her wisdom at several learning institutions, including the University of Arizona.
Mankiller was a perfect example of a modern Native American. She wasn't a Plains chief, warrior, or princess. She didn't dress in feathers and leathers. She didn't look like Pocahontas or the Land O' Lakes maiden. Her career was a fitting rebuke to people who think of Indians only in stereotypical terms.
For more on the subject, see Wilma Mankiller's Inspirations and Native Women Advocates.