After 2023's wildly successfully Barbie movie, it's more obvious than ever that Barbie is more than just a plastic doll. She embodies the dreams of young girls and has for decades been a vehicle for imagining a bright future. Barbie—owned by the Mattel brand—has become increasingly representative in recent years, aiming to diversify its dolls' skin tones, hair textures, and body types. The brand is also adding more diverse storylines to its collection, including the Inspiring Women series with the likes of Rosa Parks, Jane Goodall, and Bessie Coleman. The newest addition recognizes Wilma Mankiller, the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, by recreating the iconic leader as a Barbie.
Mankiller—who has also recently been immortalized on a U.S. quarter—was born in 1945 in Oklahoma. A member of the Cherokee Nation, she moved as a child to California as part of a government program that was aimed at urbanizing Indigenous populations with devastating results for reservation land and communities. Her activism for women and the Indigenous community began during her early career as a social worker in California before Mankiller eventually returned home to the Cherokee Nation.
In her community, Mankiller was a tireless advocate. She founded the Community Development Department to improve housing and water access (which to this day is a struggle for many on reservations). In 1985, she was elected Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, the first woman to serve in the position. She led the sovereign nation boldly, contributing to declines in infant mortality rates and promoting educational achievement, among many other accomplishments. She left office in 1995, but continued her activism until her death in 2010. She was inducted into the Women's Hall of Fame in 1993 and bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998.
Mattel's rendition of Mankiller is based on a photograph her husband took of her in 2005, outfit and all. She wears a ribbon dress with four colors representing the four compass directions. Her estate and representatives of the Cherokee Nation contributed their thoughts in the design process. Her husband, Charlie Sopa, said, “I am deeply honored Mattel is recognizing Wilma with the Wilma Mankiller doll. Wilma inspired me and many others to make the world a better place. As her community development partner for over 30 years, we shared a passion for empowering Indian communities and educating future generations.”
“When Native girls see it, they can achieve it, and Wilma Mankiller has shown countless young women to be fearless and speak up for Indigenous and Human rights,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “She not only served in a role dominated by men during a time that tribal nations were suppressed, but she led. Wilma Mankiller is a champion for the Cherokee Nation, for Indian Country and even my own daughter.”
Mattel has added a Barbie doll depicting Wilma Mankiller, first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, to its Inspiring Women series.