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Chief Wilma Mankiller, First female Cherokee Nation Chief Dies at age 64

On behalf of the National Indian Education Association, it is with heartfelt sympathy that our condolences are extended to the family of former Chief Wilma Mankiller and the Cherokee Nation.

Chief Mankiller’s unwavering vision and compassionate leadership has been demonstrated many times as Native people strive to achieve self sufficiency.

Her legacy will continue to inspire the vision of NIEA as we work to advance Indian education in Indian country.

It is with pride Native children have culturally responsive books and materials in their classrooms and libraries with positive Native role models inspired by people such as Chief Mankiller.

We join Indian Country in the mourning of Chief Mankiller, truly a wonderful leader who inspired the world.

– Patricia L. Whitefoot, President of the National Indian Education Association.

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Wilma Mankiller, the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation, died of pancreatic cancer Tuesday. She was 64.

The Oklahoma native served as chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1985 to 1995, and was the first female to do so, and in 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Chief Wilma MankillerMankiller spoke at OU in October at an American Indian symposium. She said Native American studies programs should partner with native communities to develop models that improve education, health, government and leadership among tribes.

“We need to chart a new course for the future,” Mankiller said. “Things have changed, so we need to change.”

Mankiller made a lasting mark on the state and the nation, OU President David Boren said.

“She helped all Americans understand the need to preserve the basic values of community and stewardship which are central to Native American culture,” Boren said by e-mail. “Above all, through her example she taught us the power of kindness and how to live and die with dignity.”

President Barack Obama said he was saddened to hear of her passing.

“Her legacy will continue to encourage and motivate all who carry on her work,” Obama said in a press release. “Michelle and I offer our condolences to Wilma’s family, especially her husband Charlie and two daughters, Gina and Felicia, as well as the Cherokee Nation and all those who knew her and were touched by her good works.”

Obama said Mankiller improved relations between American Indians and the federal government, and inspired American Indian girls to lead and speak out.