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New US Quarter Honors First Female Cherokee Nation Leader

A new quarter unveiled this week honors Wilma Mankiller, the first woman elected principal chief of the Cherokee Nation and an activist for Native American and women’s rights. 

Mankiller is the third woman to be featured on a US quarter, as part of the American Women Quarters Program. The initiative aims to celebrate the accomplishments and contributions made by women to the development and history of the US. 

According to U.S. Mint, Mankiller played a pivotal role in advocating for and supporting the rights of American Indians. She was born in 1945 in Oklahoma’s Cherokee Nation but had to move after a devastating drought in the 1950s. Mankiller moved to a housing project in California where she grew up experiencing culture shock, exacerbated by poverty and racism. 

She would return to the Cherokee Nation in 1977, where she helped rehab her community which included creating community water systems and renovating houses. Mankiller later went on to become elected deputy chief of the Cherokee Nation and eventually principal chief. 

She served as principal chief for 10 years and became the first women to be elected chief of a major American Indian tribe. 

Under her leadership the Cherokee Nation’s enrollment tripled, employment doubled and new housing, health centers and children’s programs were established. Infant mortality also declined and educational levels rose.  

Even after leaving office in 1995, Mankiller, “remained a strong voice worldwide for social justice, native people and women,” described U.S. Mint. 

The Hill

Read the findings here

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