SPEAKER Cherokee Chief Defies Labels By Kristy Eberbach Hoya Staff Writer

Charles Nailen/The Hoya The first female chief of the Cherokee Nation, Wilma Mankiller challenges stereotypes against Native American women Thursday.

Wilma Mankiller, the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation, discussed international women’s rights, commonly held stereotypes and the role of Native American women in their community in celebration of Women’s History Month.

“[Wilma Mankiller] is a nickname . and I’ve earned it,” she said to the crowd of mostly students Thursday in Gaston Hall.

As the member of several international boards, Mankiller addressed stereotypes held about women internationally as well as those held against Native American women in American pop culture.

Mankiller pointed to author Alice Walker saying, “Looking backward towards the future.” Cherokee culture is based on the belief that the world exists in a precarious balance and to maintain that balance individuals must pursue a righteous life, according to Mankiller. Gender equity, for example, is part of that balance, she said.

Yet when Mankiller first ran for tribal office in 1983, many people had forgotten this history, she said. Mankiller said she had to confront the stereotypes of her own people during her campaign.

“We get our identity from our clan, tribe and nation. To have members of my own nation oppose me because I’m female was very hurtful,” she said.

Mankiller said she soon discovered that she should “never argue with a fool because someone walking by won’t know who the fool is.” From that point on she said she has never looked back.

During her tenure as principal chief, the Cherokee Nation’s

Mankiller, from p. 1

budget doubled, tribal membership tripled and services to tribe members were greatly increased, she said. Before her election, ankiller ran a construction project for her community because she said it was what the people needed.

“It never occurred to me not to do it just because I’m a woman,” she said.

Despite the adversity she has faced, Mankiller said she has succeeded in promoting women’s rights throughout the world because she “cares more about the issues than what people think.”

She added that she is proud of her heritage because of its contributions to American culture and because of its respectful attitude toward women. However, the question of women’s societal role still remains. “[It is one that] we need to ask again and again until the truthful answer is [that] women are everywhere they want to be. Then we can stop asking the question,” she said.

Mankiller said she denies the fact that we are in a post-feminist era, but rather believes that people are redefining feminism.

“As women in the larger society made gains, native women have as well,” she said. “There is no area in the world not affected by the feminist movement, whether it’s a small community in Oklahoma or a New York City.” Still she said she presently feels that “women still have a major battle on their hands” because even American society has a narrow view about what it means to be a woman.

Mankiller said she lacked an assertive female role model in her childhood and stressed the need for women in leadership roles. These leading women can “strengthen us, help us go on, empower us and make us feel that the battle is worth continuing,” she said.

Mankiller said she approaches every aspect of her life with this optimism. Despite the adversity her tribe has faced such as a lack of housing, the high unemployment rate and the difficulties many have had in holding onto their land, Mankiller said she sees “another world of tenacious, strong, interdependent people with a strong sense of community.” Despite of the distinct languages, cultures and religions found among Native American tribes, this idea of interdependence unites them under the common understanding “that the people, the land and everything else is alive,” she said.

Concluding her speech, Mankiller stepped back and examined her black suit. “I hope that by spending time with you I have eliminated one more stereotype about what a chief looks like,” she said.

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