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.