As principal chief of the Cherokee nation from 1985 to 1995, Wilma Mankiller served a worldwide population of more than 140,000, controlled an annual budget of more than $75 million, and employed more than 1,200 persons spread across 7,000 square miles. Her duties and range of power were those of a head of state, as well as resembling the responsibilities of the head of a major corporation. The sixth of eleven children, Wilma Pearl Mankiller was born in the Hastings Indian Hospital in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the last stop on the infamous Trail of Tears that had forced the removal of the Cherokee from their ancestral lands in the South in 1838-1839. Her father, Charley, was a full-blooded Cherokee; her mother, Irene, was of Dutch-Irish descent. Wilma was raised at Mankiller Flats on 160 acres that had been allocated to her grandfather through the Dawes Act of 1887 and that continues to be preserved for future generations of her family.
Although the family was poor when Wilma Mankiller was young, her life was comfortable and centered around the community. Her situation altered drastically, however, when she was ten years old after her parents agreed to a voluntary relocation program designed to assimilate Native Americans into mainstream American society. The family moved to the racially mixed neighborhood of Hunters Point in San Francisco, where Wilma felt like an outsider, particularly in school. There was growing racial tension in California during the 1950’s, and much of it was directed at Native Americans, the fastest growing minority in the state at that time.
To compensate for her unhappiness at school, Mankiller spent her free time in the San Francisco Indian Center, where she relieved her homesickness and created bonds with other relocated Native American children. When she was seventeen years old she met the Ecuadorian immigrant Hector Hugo Olaya de Bardi at the center, and they were married shortly before her eighteenth birthday. Hugo expected her to become a traditional wife and...
(The entire section is 822 words.)