First Female Principal Chief of Cherokee Nation Honored on New Quarter

First Female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, Wilma Mankiller, Honored on New Quarter

Photo: U.S. Mint

It's no secret that women have long been given the short end of the stick with regards to representation on American currency. However, the U.S. Mint is aiming to remedy this deficit. The American Women Quarters Program recently launched quarters featuring the likeness of astronaut Sally Ride and poet and activist Maya Angelou. The third coin of the series bearing the image of the first female Cherokee Nation Principal Chief, Wilma Mankiller, is now in circulation.

Mankiller was born in 1945 in Oklahoma, and her family moved to San Francisco under government-led assimilation initiatives targeting Indigenous cultures and communities. As a young woman, Mankiller was inspired by the Indigenous occupation of Alcatraz Island in 1969. “What Alcatraz did for me was, it enabled me to see people who felt like I did but could articulate it much better,” she told The New York Times in 1993. “We can do something about the fact that treaties are no longer recognized, that there needs to be better education and health care.”

Mankiller's activism eventually brought her back to Oklahoma, where she pushed for better access to water and housing for the Cherokee Nation. In 1985, she became the first Principal Chief of the Nation. During her tenure, she made great strides in improving healthcare, education, and employment. In 1990, Mankiller won a self-determination victory for Indigenous people as the Cherokee Nation took direct control of significant federal funding. In 1998, three years after her tenure as Chief ended, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton.

Today, Mankiller is a renowned Indigenous leader whose work continues through The Mankiller Foundation. Having her face impressed on a U.S. quarter is far from her greatest achievement, but hopefully seeing her name and likeness will inspire many to learn about Mankiller’s work and legacy.

The late Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Wilma Mankiller has been honored with her likeness on a U.S. Quarter as part of the American Women Quarters Program.

First Female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, Wilma Mankiller, Honored on New Quarter

Wilma Mankiller receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Clinton, January 1998. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

h/t: [CNN, NPR]

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Madeleine Muzdakis

Madeleine Muzdakis is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and a historian of early modern Britain & the Atlantic world. She holds a BA in History and Mathematics from Brown University and an MA in European & Russian Studies from Yale University. Madeleine has worked in archives and museums for years with a particular focus on photography and arts education. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, film photography, and studying law while cuddling with her cat Georgia.
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