Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights 2020

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Chief Mankiller Takes Flight to Spirit World

BREAKING NEWS: Former Cherokee Nation Chief Wilma Mankiller dies

Former Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Wilma Mankiller died in the morning hours of April 6 at her home in rural Adair County.
(Courtesy photo)
By Christina Good Voice
Staff Writer
Cherokee Phoenix

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Former Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Wilma Mankiller died in the morning hours of April 6 at her home in rural Adair County, Cherokee Nation officials confirmed to the Cherokee Phoenix.

Mankiller, who was one of the few women ever to lead a major American Indian tribe, was 64.

Her passing came a little more than a month after her husband, CN Community Services Group Leader Charlie Soap, announced that she was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer.

“Our personal and national hearts are heavy with sorrow and sadness with the passing this morning of Wilma Mankiller,” said Chad Smith, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation in a statement released by the 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 her example of Cherokee leadership, statesmanship, humility, grace, determination and decisiveness."

“When we become disheartened, we will be inspired by remembering how Wilma proceeded undaunted through so many trials and tribulations," Smith said. "Years ago, she and her husband Charlie Soap showed the world what Cherokee people can do when given the chance, when they organized the self-help water line in the Bell community. She said Cherokees in that community learned that it was their choice, their lives, their community and their future. Her gift to us is the lesson that our lives and future are for us to decide. We can carry on that Cherokee legacy by teaching our children that lesson. Please keep Wilma’s family, especially her husband Charlie and her daughters, Gina and Felicia, in your prayers.”

In a March 2 news release, Soap said Mankiller had stage 4 metastatic pancreatic cancer but gave no other details.

In the release, Mankiller wrote she was prepared for the journey.

“I decided to issue this statement because I want my family and friends to know that I am mentally and spiritually prepared for this journey, a journey that all human beings will take at one time or another,” she wrote. “It’s been my privilege to meet and be touched by thousands of people in my life, and I regret not being able to deliver this message personally to so many of you.”

Mankiller served as principal chief from 1985 until retiring in 1995. Prior to becoming principal chief, she served as deputy chief under Ross Swimmer. She assumed the principal chief position and served out the remainder of the 1983-87 term after Swimmer resigned to take a Bureau of Indian Affairs job in Washington, D.C. She was elected principal chief in 1987 and 1991.

Mankiller was born on Nov. 18, 1945, at W.W. Hastings Indian Hospital in Tahlequah, according to a CN press release.

Mankiller requested that any gifts in her honor be made as donations to One Fire Development Corporation, a non-profit dedicated to advancing Native American communities though economic development, and to valuing the wisdom that exists within each of the diverse tribal communities around the world. Tax deductible donations can be made at as well as The mailing address for One Fire Development Corporation is 1220 Southmore Houston, TX 77004.

Memorial services will be March 10 at 11 a.m. at the Cherokee Nation Cultural Grounds in Tahlequah.

Staff and wire reports contributed to this story.
Reach Staff Writer Christina Good Voice at (918) 207-3825 or

In Memory
By Arlene Bowman
"This is very sad news to hear about Wilma Mankiller. I heard her speak at the Native American Journalist Conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma - 2006, which I was a participant. I am Dine' filmmaker. I had heard about her from the news as she was chief of the Cherokee Nation. Not many female Native American women hold positions as leaders/chiefs of their Nations these days such as her, but there should be more women leading such positions. She was this kind of Native American woman and person who seemed very open minded and had a lot of insight about the world and people. I was very inspired by her speech. After the speech, I walked up to her at the podium and expressed how she inspired to me. I was very impressed. Believe me it takes a lot to impress me.
Lately been feeling very sad and frustrated because of the death up above and other peoples' deaths and then my own thing. Why must all the good people die? To fight to correct and inform people with information about positive examples versus the stereotypes makes a person weary because there's so much to repair.

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