Oklahoma One of the most influential American Indian leaders in recent history, former Cherokee Nation Chief Wilma Mankiller was widely known for strengthening her tribe and drawing the accolades of U.S. presidents. But it was her humble, tender nature — a refusal to squash a bug, an affinity for opera — that defined her, friends and family said Saturday.
Mankiller, among the few women to ever lead a major tribe, was remembered during a memorial in Oklahoma that drew more than 1,200 mourners, including dignitaries from other tribes and governments, as a respected leader who earned the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Mankiller died Tuesday after a bout with pancreatic cancer. She was 64.
Mankiller led the Cherokee Nation, which now has about 290,000 members, from December 1985 until 1995, when she decided not to seek re-election.