"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 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).
Wilma is still living today. Her autobiography, A Chief and Her People was published in 1993.