Wilma Mankiller was the first female Chief of the Cherokee Nation. She served from 1985 through 1995.
Mankiller was born in 1945 in Oklahoma, on the reservation at Mankiller Flats. When she was a child, her family relocated to San Francisco in hopes of finding a better life. Mankiller became an activist early on, participating in the occupation of Alcatraz and other Native American demonstrations in the in 1960s.
In 1977, Mankiller returned to the reservation in Oklahoma. She started working for the Cherokee Nation in a low-level job and worked her way up to deputy chief, a position to which she was elected in 1983. In 1985, the Principal Chief resigned and Mankiller took over. She was then re-elected in 1987 and in 1991, in an 82% landslide victory.
Mankiller's tenure as Cherokee Nation Chief was full of obstacles, many of them gender-related. However, she overcame resistance to found the Cherokee Nation Community Development Department, revive Cherokee high schools, and increase the Nation population from 55,000 to 156,000. She also focused on providing economic assistance to tribe members wishing to open small businesses.
Mankiller resigned from the Chief position in 1995, mostly due to health concerns. She has written two books, Mankiller: A Chief and her People (1993) and Every Day is a Good Day (2004).