Wilma Mankiller – WOMAN of ACTION™


A Celebration of Women™

is honored to Celebrate the Life of this embodiment of spirit, a woman that has devoted her life to the betterment of others. Born of Cherokee heritage, this woman has gone to far reaching lengths to empower the people of her birth.

We are elated to pay this Tribute to such an amazing powerhouse of a woman!





Wilma Mankiller

“We are a revitalized tribe. After every major upheaval, we have been able to gather together as a people to rebuild a community and a government. Individually and collectively, Cherokee people possess an extraordinary ability to face down adversity and continue moving forward. We are able to do that because our culture, though certainly diminished, has sustained us since time inmemorial. This Cherokee culture is a well-kept secret.”    -Wilma Mankiller


Wilma Pearl Mankiller was born in Oklahoma in 1945, part of a Cherokee tribe. She lived in California for most of her childhood, however. She also married for 11 years, but then divorced. She worked for the Pit River Tribe in education programs, but when she moved back to Oklahoma, things began to change.

In 1979, Wilma attended the University of Arkansas on a happy note, but 1980 came with a sad note. Wilma was diagnosed with a neuromuscular disease called myasthenia gravis, but she wouldn’t let her disease stop her from doing what she wanted. In 1986, because of her failing health, she received a kidney transplant, ending up with the kidney of her brother, Don. She was also named American Indian Woman of the Year, and she married her long-time friend, Charlie Soap. She also took care of his son from a previous marriage, Winterhawk.

In 1987, Wilma became the first woman of the Cherokee to be made Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. She was named Ms. Magazine’s Woman of the Year, too. In the next three consecutive years, she received more awards: the John W. Gardner Leadership Award (1988), the U.S. Public Health Service’s Indian Health Source Award (1989), and the OSU Henry G. Bennett Distinguished Service Award(1990).

Since leaving office, Wilma Mankiller has remained active in causes related to Native American rights and Women’s rights. 

Mankiller also wrote and compiled Every Day Is a Good Day: Reflections by Contemporary Indigenous Women (2004), which featured a forward by leading feminist Gloria Steinem.ilma is still living today.

Her autobiography, A Chief and Her People was published in 1993.

A feature-length motion picture, The Cherokee Word for Water, is about a Cherokee community that uses traditional Native values of reciprocity and interdependence to rebuild their community. Set in the early 1980s, the screenplay was inspired by the Bell Waterline Project which was the subject of national media coverage. This positive, uplifting film focuses on the cultural assets of Native people and seeks to help reshape the public perception of Native people.

The project is committed to training and employing Native people for jobs from filming to construction.

The leadership team includes Charlie Soap, Wilma Mankiller’s husband who has worked in Indian Country for all of his life. The experienced creative team includes Paul Heller, producer of Academy Award Wining My Left Foot, to create a positive contemporary Native American story with universal appeal.


A Celebration of Women™ 

welcomes this example of spirit in action into our Alumni with open arms.



Brava Wilma!


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