From the AP story, via the New York Times:
Former Cherokee Nation Chief Wilma Mankiller, one of the nation’s most visible American Indian leaders and one of the few women to lead a major tribe, died Tuesday after suffering from cancer and other health problems. She was 64.
Mankiller, whose first taste of federal policy toward Indians came when her family ended up in a housing project after a government relocation project, took Indian issues to the White House and met with three presidents. She earned a reputation for facing conflict head-on. As the first female chief of the Cherokees, from 1985 to 1995, Mankiller led the tribe in tripling its enrollment, doubling employment and building new health centers and children’s programs.
[…] In 1969, she got what she called ”an enormous wake-up call” and took her first step into Indian activism by participating in the 19-month occupation of Alcatraz Island. Seventy-nine Native Americans took over the site of the former federal prison to protest a policy that terminated the federal government’s recognition of tribal sovereignty and the exclusion of Indians from state laws. The policy was based on the belief that Native Americans would be better off if they assimilated as individuals into mainstream American society.
[…] As chief of the Tahlequah-based tribe, Mankiller was less of an activist and more of a pragmatist. She was criticized for focusing almost exclusively on social programs, instead of pushing for smoke shops and high-stakes gaming.
Mankiller decided not to seek re-election in 1995, and accepted a teaching position at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., where she held an honorary degree. Among her other honors was a Presidential Medal of Freedom — the nation’s highest civilian award — presented in 1998.
Seeing this reminded me that I need to replace my copy of her excellent autobiography, Mankiller: A Chief and Her People. And on her website, I found news of an upcoming documentary to which I look forward with great interest…
“The question I am asked most frequently is why I remain such a positive person, after surviving breast cancer, lymphoma, dialysis, two kidney transplants, and systemic myasthenia gravis. The answer is simple: I am Cherokee, and I am a woman. No one knows better than I that every day is indeed a good day. How can I be anything but positive when I come from a tenacious, resilient people who keep moving forward with an eye toward the future even after enduring unspeakable hardship? How can I not be positive when I have lived longer than I ever dreamed possible and my life plays itself out in a supportive community of extended family and friends? There is much to be thankful for. Though I am an ordinary woman, I have been blessed with many extraordinary experiences. I have been privileged to travel extensively, meet world leaders like Nelson Mandela, represent tribal people in meetings with several United States presidents, and work with visionary tribal leaders and activists.
I learned at a fairly early age that I cannot always control the things that are sent my way or the things that other people do, but I can most certainly control how I think about them and react to them. I don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on the negative. I believe that having a good, peaceful mind is the basic premise for a good life. — from “The Way Home”, Every Day is a Good Day by Wilma Mankiller, p. 148