CNN) -- Wilma Mankiller, the first woman to lead the Cherokee native American tribe, died Tuesday after a battle with pancreatic cancer, Cherokee leaders announced Tuesday. She was 64. Mankiller served 10 years as principal chief of the Cherokee, the second-largest U.S. tribe, and became its first freely elected leader in 1987. President Clinton awarded her the Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. civilian honor, in 1998.
"Our personal and national hearts are heavy with sorrow and sadness with the passing this morning of Wilma Mankiller," said Chad Smith, her successor as chief of the Oklahoma-based 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 of her example of Cherokee leadership, statesmanship, humility, grace, determination and decisiveness."
The CNN report is typical in that it calls Chief Mankiller "the first woman to lead the Cherokee native American tribe". I believe those reports should say, "the first recorded woman to lead the Cherokee nation," but I take their meaning. Wikipedia notes that: Mankiller is sometimes incorrectly referred to as the first woman chief of a Native American tribe. In the 20th century, Alice Brown Davis became Principal Chief of the Seminole Tribe of Oklahoma in 1922 and Mildred Cleghorn became the Chairperson of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe in 1976.
In earlier times, a number of women led their tribes.
She once explained that, I've run into more discrimination as a woman than as an Indian.
When I was young and needed some strong female leaders to look up to, Chief Mankiller was one of the women I found to focus on. Back then, the patriarchy made a lot of jokes about her name. She showed a lot of grace under pressure.
I'm a woman, a Witch, a mother, a grandmother, an eco-feminist, a gardener, a reader, a writer, and a priestess of the Great Mother Earth. Hecate appears in the
Homeric Ode to Demeter, which tells of Hades who caught Persophone
"up reluctant on his golden car and bare her away lamenting. . . . But no one, either of the deathless gods or of mortal men, heard her voice, nor yet the olive-trees bearing rich fruit: only tenderhearted Hecate, bright-coiffed, the daughter of Persaeus, heard the girl from her cave . . . ."