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Vincent Schilling
Indian Country Today

The first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation will be stamped onto the 2022 quarters, the U.S. Mint announced.

Wilma Mankiller is one of the five women appearing on the quarters as part of the American Women Quarters Program, which “is a four-year program that celebrates the accomplishments and contributions made by women to the development and history of our country,” according to the U.S. Mint. The four-year program begins in 2022 and continues until 2025.

Other notable women joining Mankiller are celebrated author and poet Maya Angelou, the first American woman in space Dr. Sally Ride, suffrage movement leader in New Mexico Adelina Otero-Warren and the first Chinese-American film star in Hollywood, Anna May Wong.

The U.S. Mint will be issuing up to five new reverse designs, meaning the image will appear on the tail side of the coin, and the likeness of George Washington will be different than in previous years.

“The American Women Quarters may feature contributions from a variety of fields, including, but not limited to, suffrage, civil rights, abolition, government, humanities, science, space, and the arts,” read the announcement. “The women honored will be from ethnically, racially, and geographically diverse backgrounds. The Public Law requires that no living person be featured in the coin designs.”

Mankiller was elected as the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation in July 1987 and re-elected in 1991. She served in the post until 1995. She died on April 6, 2010. 

She stated in her autobiography, "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. But I also want to be remembered for emphasizing the fact that we have indigenous solutions to our problems."

Wilma Mankiller biography book cover. (Photo courtesy of Wilma Mankiller Foundation)

Mankiller’s husband Charlie Soap, producer, director and co-creator of the film “Cherokee Word for Water” is grateful for the recognition.

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“We thank the U.S. Mint for recognizing Wilma and the other recipients for such an honor. Wilma was a humble, spiritual great leader, whose leadership was not only for Cherokee people but for all women and races,” Soap told Indian Country Today. “The real value of this coin is the inspiration it brings to Indian people and women everywhere. Wilma did a simple thing as a tribal leader: she reminded our people of our greatness and our gift to help one another.”

He added: “Mankiller’s legacy is her connection with the common people. She looked out for everyone, especially the underdog who always seems to be left behind. I am deeply honored to have had the opportunity to have partnered and worked with her. Although she faced hardship with her health challenges—that never slowed her down—this coin is a reminder of her leadership and what our people believe in ‘gadugi’ (people helping each other and working to better solve problems.) Thank you for bestowing such an honor. Of course, if it was up to me, she should be on the $1,000 bill,” Soap said.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. also celebrates the honor of the former tribal leader.

“When we celebrate the achievement of women in this country, it is absolutely fitting and deserving that former Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Wilma Mankiller be represented for her national voice, influence and leadership that first elevated Native American tribes and tribal issues in this country. Chief Mankiller served as the first female Chief in a role dominated by men and during a time that the Cherokee Nation was first getting its footing after decades of suppression by the U.S. Government,” Hoskin wrote in an email. “She stood for tribal sovereignty and treaty rights. She fought for civil rights and equality, and self-sufficiency for the Cherokee people. She was the anchor establishing what has now become the largest tribal health care system in the country. She was truly a champion for Indian Country and we are so proud she is forever honored on this coin by the U.S. Mint as part of the American Women Quarters Program.”

Rebecca Anderson, a close personal friend of Wilma Mankiller and founder of the First Nations Development Institute and First Peoples Worldwide said, “This is so powerful and a perfect tribute to her leadership power and spirit.”

Mankiller’s life and legacy has been celebrated in over 35 film festivals worldwide since the 2018 award-winning documentary, “Mankiller,” aired nationally on PBS for Womens’ History month.

The documentary executive producer Gale Anne Hurd told Indian Country Today in an email, “Through the American Women Quarters Program initiative, I am thrilled that so many women are finally getting long-overdue recognition. Having researched the late Wilma Mankiller’s incredibly inspiring legacy in the documentary, MANKILLER, I am hopeful that this honor will bring her the worldwide recognition she deserves. Wilma is in excellent company, right where she belongs.”

Valerie Red-Horse Mohl, director of the documentary, said, “I was so delighted to learn that Wilma Mankiller will be one of the first distinguished American women on the 2022 quarters. In having the honor to direct the documentary about her life and leadership, I learned that her legacy, wisdom and character remain so very relevant today and are pillars of the role model she was and is. She should be celebrated broadly and boldly!”

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This story has been updated to show that Dr. Sally Ride was the first American woman in space.

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