Wilma Mankiller, the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation in modern times, died April 7th, 2010 of Pancreatic Cancer. Mankiller had chronic illnesses including Mysthenia Gravis, Lymphoma, Breast Cancer and a Kidney transplant. She was only 64 when she died.
Although she had many difficulties with her health, as chief from 1985 to 1995, Mankiller she focused on health care, housing and other social and family issues within the Cherokee Tribe and she helped membership triple.
She was known as someone who not only cared, but who did something about her concerns. Her role as an advocate and leader began when she joined a 19 month long occupation of Alcatraz Island which demonstrated the US government’s recognition of tribal sovereignty.
After a car accident in 1979, which almost killed her and required 17 surgeries, Mankiller, still decided to campaign for chief and won in 1985. Through her health struggles, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1988 and continued to work for the Cherokee and Native American people.