April 6, 2010
Wilma P. Mankiller (Sam Kittner/Newseum)

Wilma P. Mankiller (Sam Kittner/Newseum)

Remembering Wilma Mankiller

Wilma Mankiller, the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation and a longtime trustee of the Freedom Forum and Newseum, died April 6. She was 64.

"Wilma made a huge difference with her life," said Charles L. Overby, chairman and chief executive officer of the Freedom Forum and Newseum. "She was an inspiration to students in our classes and workshops. She was a valuable board member. We have all suffered a loss."

From 1985 to 1995, Mankiller, an Oklahoma native, led the Cherokee Nation. Her leadership was instrumental in revolutionizing education, health care and business. Before her barrier-breaking election, "Young Cherokee girls would never have thought that they might grow up and become chief," she said.

In his 2000 book "Free Spirit," Freedom Forum and Newseum founder Al Neuharth discussed Mankiller's surname, which is a Cherokee military title meaning "someone who watches over the villages."

"When I met Wilma Mankiller, I popped the obvious question: 'How did you get your name?' Her quick quip: 'I earned it!'"

After her diagnosis of Stage IV metastatic pancreatic cancer, Mankiller issued this statement in March:

"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. I learned a long time ago that I can't control the challenges the Creator sends my way, but I can control the way I think about them and deal with them. … I have been blessed with an extraordinarily rich and wonderful life, filled with incredible experiences. And I am grateful to have a support team composed of loving family and friends."

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