What I admire in women who take on life’s challenges can be found in their unyielding spirit. I love the story of Wilma Mankiller. She was born in Tahlequah, Oklahoma in 1945 and grew up in San Francisco. Her father was Cherokee and her mother Dutch/Irish. At school she was not accepted by her peers and looking to the San Francisco Indian Center for refuge, she found her way. She became an activist for the rights of Native Americans and took part in the Occupy Alcatraz movement in 1969. Knowing that she wanted to bring aid to her own tribe, she returned to her native Oklahoma in the ’70s. In time, she was elected Chief of her tribe, the Cherokee Nation. She credited her many leadership skills to her time spent in California involved in the causes of Native Americans. She advanced her tribal community with education and health services, water and infrastructure improvements. She lived by the Cherokee saying “be of good mind,” now considered positive thinking.
Her husband of 24 years, Charlie Soap, said he tried to impress her on their first date by taking her to Tulsa for a hotdog and a Rambo movie only to find out later she didn’t like hotdogs or Rambo movies. They shared sharp wit and laughed alot. He was the love of her life. When Gloria Steinem married in 2000, her wedding was performed in Oklahoma at the home of Wilma Mankiller. Wilma Mankiller and Gloria Steinem were collaborators and dear friends. Mankiller was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Bill Clinton in 1998. When she died in 2010 of pancreatic cancer, President Obama wrote, “she served as an inspiration to women in Indian Country.”