A Conversation With...Wilma Mankiller

WilmaWilma Mankiller rose from dirt poor beginnings in rural Adair County to become one of the most respected leaders in the United States as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.

In the new OETA production, A Conversation With...Wilma Mankiller, she tells Dick Pryor about her struggles and triumphs in a remarkable personal journey that led her to worldwide recognition and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Mother, author, leader, activist and role model - Wilma Mankiller's incredible story of perseverance, courage and commitment is deeply personal and inspiring. Her words soar, and her unrelenting spirit is a tribute to her Nation and its people.

Excerpt from A Conversation With...Wilma Mankiller, discussing her life in San Francisco before returning to Oklahoma:

Chief Mankiller: I LEARNED A LOT OF LESSONS IN SAN FRANCISCO AND MADE A LOT OF VERY LASTING AND IMPORTANT FRIENDSHIPS THERE. I THINK THAT THEY... I LEARNED A LOT FROM THE PEOPLE I MET AT THE SAN FRANCISCO INDIAN CENTER, AND IT WAS A SOCIAL CENTER AND, ALSO, AN INFORMATION REFERRAL CENTER FOR PEOPLE WHO NEEDED VARIOUS THINGS-- REFERRALS FOR JOBS OR SOME MEDICAL CARE, OR HOUSING, OR SOME OTHER SERVICE.W2

BUT I GREW UP DURING A TIME OF GREAT POLITICAL CHANGE IN THIS COUNTRY, AND SO THERE WAS A HUGE FREE SPEECH MOVEMENT GOING ON AT BERKELEY. THERE WAS A HUGE ANTI-WAR MOVEMENT GOING ON RELATIVE TO VIETNAM, AND A CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT WAS GOING FULL-SWING. NATIVE AMERICAN PEOPLE WERE BEGINNING TO STAND UP AND ADVOCATE FOR RECOGNITION OF TREATY RIGHTS AND TRIBAL SOVEREIGNTY, AND SO IT WAS, YOU KNOW, IT WAS AN INCREDIBLE TIME.

THE MUSIC WAS CHANGING. I LIVED IN SAN FRANCISCO WHEN YOU COULD LITERALLY GO TO A PARK AND HEAR JANIS JOPLIN OR JIMI HENDRIX, AND PLAY. SO IT WAS THAT KIND OF ERA WHERE THERE WAS CHANGE-- CHANGE WAS IN THE AIR. AND A LOT OF YOUNG, JUST REGULAR, EVERYDAY MIDDLE-CLASS PEOPLE, YOUNG PEOPLE WERE QUESTIONING WHAT WAS GOING ON AROUND THEM AND THINKING THEY MAY WANT TO DO SOMETHING A LITTLE DIFFERENT. SO GROWING UP IN THAT KIND OF ENVIRONMENT, WHERE AT SAN FRANCISCO STATE THERE WERE MEETINGS FOR THE EARLY CONTEMPORARY WOMEN'S MOVEMENT-- JUST SO MANY THINGS WHIRLING AROUND, SO MANY THINGS TO THINK ABOUT AND SEE AND DO, HAD A PROFOUND IMPACT ON ME AND MY ENTIRE FAMILY.

Pryor: YOU WERE EXPOSED TO MANY CULTURES THERE.

Chief Mankiller: RIGHT.

Pryor: ALSO POVERTY, AND A DIFFERENT KIND OF POVERTY, PERHAPS, THAN YOU HAD BEEN USED TO.

W1Chief Mankiller: RIGHT. I CAME TO THE CONCLUSION BY LEARNING ABOUT POVERTY IN OUR HOME-- ECONOMIC POVERTY-- IN OUR HOME IN ADAIR COUNTY IN A CHEROKEE COMMUNITY, AND POVERTY IN AN URBAN AREA, AND POVERTY WITHOUT COMMUNITY IS VERY DIFFERENT THAN POVERTY IN A COMMUNITY WHERE THERE IS A GROUP OF PEOPLE WHO SHARE A SPECIFIC GEOGRAPHIC SPACE, BUT ALSO SHARE A COMMON HISTORY AND A COMMON LANGUAGE AND COMMON VALUES, AND SOME SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY FOR ONE ANOTHER.

SO WE LEFT A COMMUNITY WHERE PEOPLE STILL HAD AND CONTINUE TODAY TO HAVE A SENSE OF RECIPROCITY AND A SENSE OF INTERDEPENDENCE AND RESPONSIBILITY FOR ONE ANOTHER, AND WE WENT TO A COMMUNITY-- A LOW INCOME COMMUNITY-- WHERE EVERYBODY WAS FROM SOMEPLACE ELSE. THEY DID NOT HAVE THAT SHARED HISTORY OR VALUES OR LANGUAGE. THEY JUST SIMPLY SHARED A SPECIFIC GEOGRAPHIC SPACE. SO THERE ARE COMMUNITIES OF VALUES AND CULTURE, AND THEN THERE ARE COMMUNITIES OF PLACE. AND SO IT'S A VERY DIFFERENT KIND OF POVERTY.

A Conversation With...Wilma Mankiller - originally aired November 23, 2008.