The Henry G. Bennett Distinguished Service Award


Chief Wilma P. Mankiller
Principal Chief, Cherokee Nation

Wilma P. Mankiller

Chief Wilma P. Mankiller, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, was born in the Indian Hospital in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. She has deep roots in the rural community of Rocky Mountain in Adair County. She learned early the hardships of poverty in rural America, and also learned about the difficulties of urban poverty when, in 1957, she and her family were forced to move to San Francisco, California, as part of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Relocation Program. In 1983, Wilma Mankiller was the first woman elected as Deputy Principal Chief for the Cherokee Nation. Following the resignation of the Principal Chief in 1985, she was selected for that high position of leadership--the first woman to ever hold such an office in any Indian Tribe. In 1987, she was elected to the position by the members of the Cherokee Nation.

Through her commitment to rural community development, Chief Mankiller was instrumental in establishing the Cherokee Community Development Department, and she has been responsible for obtaining funding for the Cherokee Gardens commercial horticulture operation, the Bell Community project, as well as many other high priority important social services. She has become known as a quiet, but effective advocate for her people and for Oklahoma.

Chief Mankiller has been recognized and honored by various organizations for her distinguished work with the public and for her basic philosophy of the empowerment of people at the local level. Representative honors she has received include: American Indian Woman of the Year, 1986; Oklahoma Women's Hall of Fame, Governor's Advisory Committee, 1986; Woman of the Year, Ms. Magazine, 1987; John W. Gardner Leadership Award, Independent Sector, 1988; and the Indian Health Service Award, U.S. Public Health Service, 1989.

Through her commitment to service organizations, as well as her work and dedication to the improvement of the Cherokee people, C hief Wilma P. Mankiller has brought great prestige and honor to herself, to her family, to those who comprise the distinguished Cherokee Nation, and to Oklahoma.

NOTE: More information about Chief Mankiller and her association with Oklahoma State University may be found in the OSU Library Friends pages.

Year of Award: 1990