A U.S. quarter featuring the image of the late Cherokee Principal Chief Wilma Mankiller will be unveiled June 6 with a celebration in Oklahoma honoring her move from activist to the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation.
The quarter features a portrait of Mankiller, wrapped in a traditional shawl with the wind at her back, and the seven-pointed star of the Cherokee Nation. It spells out Cherokee Nation in the Cherokee syllabary.
It is the third quarter released by the U.S. Mint in a series honoring prominent American women.
“Traditionally women have had an important leadership role in our Indian Nations, so we are deeply honored for Wilma to be recognized along with the other great women selected to be represented on the quarter,” said Charlie Soap, Wilma’s widower, in a statement released by the Cherokee Nation.
-The lost poems of Wilma Mankiller
The quarter will be released on the same day as a new book, “Mankiller Poems,” which features early writings by Mankiller that were discovered in a barn on her Oklahoma lands after her death.
U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, will read poems at the ceremony to honor her friend, who died in 2010 of pancreatic cancer after years of battling health problems.
“Her words are tracks made into songs on paper that still speak through the years of a life, a time, a generation,” Harjo writes in the foreword to the book, set to be released by Pulley Press.
Another friend, Gloria Steinem, is also expected to attend. Steinem worked with Mankiller on a number of projects and wrote an introduction to Mankiller’s book, “Every Day is a Good Day: Reflections by Contemporary Indigenous Women,” published in 2011. She was at Mankiller’s side when she died.
“In a just world, Wilma Mankiller would have been president, but now, she will be on a coin that is part of our daily lives,” Steinem said in a statement released by the Cherokee Nation. “I hope more people will be inspired to read about Wilma, her leadership, and the democracy we inherited from Native Americans.”
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The ceremony is set to begin at 10 a.m. Central Time June 6 on the lawn of the Cherokee National Capital Museum in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the capital of the Cherokee Nation. A limited number of the 2022 quarters will go on sale inside the museum after the ceremony.
The coins will officially go on sale online from the U.S. Mint on June 14, but a note on the Mint website says that high demand has already depleted the entire production. Additional coins may be available at a later time, officials said.
Soap, executive of the Mankiller trust, is set to speak later in the day at Too Fond of Books, an independent bookstore in Tahlequah.
Mankiller was born Nov. 18, 1945, in Tahlequah, the sixth of 11 children to Charley Mankiller and Clara Irene Sitton. The name, Mankiller, Asgaya-dihi, refers to a military rank, according to the National Women’s History Museum website.
When she was 11, the family was relocated to San Francisco under a program operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Inspired by the occupation of Alcatraz in 1969 and the women’s movement, she served as director of Oakland’s Native American Youth Center and helped the Pit River Tribe fight Pacific Gas and Electric over millions of acres of land, according to the website.
She returned to Oklahoma with her two daughters in 1976 at age 31, after a divorce, and created the Community Development Department for the Cherokee Nation. Her work bringing together a community to build a water line for Bell, Oklahoma, was featured in the film, “The Cherokee Word for Water.”
She was elected deputy chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1983, and became chief in 1985 when then-Principal Chief Ross Swimmer left to head the Bureau of Indian Affairs. She was the first woman to be elected to either position. She was elected principal chief in 1987 and again in 1991, before leaving office in 1995.
During her tenure, she built the Cherokee Nation by doubling employment, tripling the tribe’s enrollment and improving education, health and housing services. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993 and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 1998 from then-President Bill Clinton.
She died April 6, 2010.
“If I am to be remembered, I want it to be because I am fortunate enough to have become my tribe's first female chief,” she wrote in her autobiography, “Mankiller: A Chief and Her People,” published in 1993.
“But I also want to be remembered for emphasizing the fact that we have Indigenous solutions to our problems."
The Mankiller quarter
Only two other Cherokee Nation citizens, Sequoyah and Mary Golda Ross, have been featured on coins from the U.S. Mint; they both appeared in the Native American Dollar Coin series, in 2017 and 2019, respectively.
The Mankiller coin was designed by Benjamin Sowards, the artistic infusion program designer for the U.S. Mint, and was sculpted by Mint artist Phebe Hemphill.
“This coin’s design reflects the strength and determination it took for Wilma Mankiller to become the first woman elected principal chief of the Cherokee Nation and to fight for Native American and women’s rights,” said Ventris C. Gibson, the U.S. Mint’s deputy director. “We hope everyone who sees it will be inspired to learn more about her contributions to the Cherokee people and our nation as a whole.”
Cherokee Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said the quarter honors Mankiller’s work over the decades. He will be attending the June 6 celebration, as will Swimmer, the former principal chief.
“Chief Mankiller was the voice that first elevated Native American tribes and tribal issues in this country and served as the first female chief in a role dominated by men during a time that the Cherokee Nation was first getting its footing after decades of suppression by the U.S. Government,” Hoskin said in statement.
“While we defend our sovereignty today, she was the pioneer who stood firmly for tribal sovereignty and treaty rights four decades earlier. She fought for civil rights and equality, and self-sufficiency for the Cherokee people, and was the anchor establishing what has now become the largest tribal health care system in the country,” he continued.
“We are so proud she is forever honored on this coin by the U.S. Mint.”
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