15 April 2010

Wilma Mankiller: An Appreciation

All of us at the Ms. Foundation are deeply saddened by the passing of Wilma Mankiller, who died April 6 from pancreatic cancer. Wilma was the first woman elected chief of the Cherokee Nation, which she led from 1985-95. Throughout her life, she made indelible contributions to social justice in the US, particularly within Native and women's rights movements. Her vision, leadership and activism will be felt for generations to come.

Wilma was also active in philanthropy, and we were extremely fortunate to have her serve on the Ms. Foundation board from 1986-1990. While she made many contributions, Wilma especially helped us strengthen and advance our new (at the time) work in women's economic development. She was our keynote speaker at the first Institute on Women and Economic Development, held on Thompson's Island in Boston Harbor in 1988. Some 90 leaders of grassroots women's organizations gathered for three days, including, because of Wilma, seven Native women. When Wilma spoke to the gathering on the first evening, she included all of the Native women, inviting them on stage to tell their own stories of how women on their reservations were leading the way to local economic and community development that benefited individuals, families and whole communities. You could have heard a pin drop in the auditorium as the rest of us listened in rapt attention, learning about communities and experiences that we knew almost nothing about.

In ways like this, Wilma always made Native people and their lives more visible. She lived by values that the Ms. Foundation also holds dear: lift every voice, and trust those most impacted by an issue or a problem to have the solutions. We will miss her very much.

Sara K. Gould
President & CEO
Ms. Foundation for Women

Read this Indian Country Today article for more from Sara and others about Wilma's life.

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