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Activist to speak on challenges facing indigenous people

September 30, 2008

Wilma Mankiller, former principal chief of the Cherokee Nation and internationally known Native American rights activist will talk about “Challenges Facing 21st Century Indigenous People” at 7 p.m., Oct. 2 at the Heard Museum, Steele Auditorium. Her talk is the second Arizona State University Simon Ortiz and Labriola Center Lecture on Indigenous Land, Culture, and Community.

The lecture is free and open to the public. Seating is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. More information at

The lecture series seeks to underscore Indigenous American experiences and perspectives while addressing topics that can be applicable to all walks of life. It is sponsored by Arizona State University’s American Indian Studies program, Department of English, Department of History, Women and Gender Studies program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and the Labriola National American Indian Data Center, part of ASU Libraries; with support from the Heard Museum.  

A reception for Mankiller will be held at 3 p.m. in West Hall, room 135 on ASU’s Tempe campus.

The first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, or any major American tribe, Mankiller opened doors for young Native American girls to serve in leadership positions in a male-dominated environment. Mankiller’s father moved her family to San Francisco in the 1950s in hopes of a better life, where she ultimately became an activist for Native American rights.

Mankiller returned to the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma in the late 1970s and helped build community programs including a school and youth center. She also organized the renovation of the water system. 

In 1983, she was elected deputy chief of the Cherokee Nation and in 1985 elected the first female principal chief. She served as principal chief for 10 years and stepped down due to health reasons. 

Mankiller has since worked as a consultant and speaker on Native American issues. She has been acknowledged for her work and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the two highest civilian awards in the United States. She has also been recognized as American Indian Woman of the Year and Ms. magazine's Woman of the Year in 1987.

She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, the International Women’s Hall of Fame, the Minority Business Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma Women’s Hall of Fame and the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.

Mankiller serves on the board of trustees of the Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan foundation advocating for free press and speech rights for all people. She also serves on the board of directors of the Newseum, a museum of the news in Washington, D.C.

She has l8 honorary doctorates from universities including Yale University, Dartmouth College and Smith College. In 2005, she served as the Morse Chair Professor of Law and Politics at the University of Oregon.

She has presented more than l00 lectures at universities and published more than a dozen papers in journals and newspapers.

Mankiller co-edited “A Reader’s Companion to the History of Women in the U.S.” with Barbara Smith, Gloria Steinem, Gwendolyn Mink and Marysa Navarro. Among her books are the autobiography “Mankiller: A Chief and Her People,” which became a best-seller and “Every Day is a Good Day,” a collection of essays by contemporary Native American women on issues of Indigenous spirituality, sovereignty and culture.