Q: Who was the first woman to become chief of a Native American nation?
A: Wilma Pearl Mankiller was the first woman to become Chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1985. She was principal chief until 1995. The Oklahoma native grew up in a destitute family that lived first in Oklahoma and then in California. In 1983, she was elected deputy chief of the Cherokee Nation. When Principal Chief Ross Swimmer left in 1985, to head the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Mankiller became chief. She was freely elected in 1987 and re-elected in 1991, with 83 percent of the vote.
She said that prior to her election “young Cherokee girls would never have thought that they might grow up and become chief.”
Mankiller died of pancreatic cancer on April 6, 2010.