Wilma Pearl Mankiller was an activist who fought for the rights of American Indian/Alaska Natives and women. Mankiller was the first elected woman to serve as Deputy Chief and later Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, the second largest tribe in the U.S.
As the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, her administration focused on reducing unemployment rates, increasing educational opportunities, improving community health care, and developing the economy. She committed herself to improving the image of the Native people by using the press to combat negative stereotypes surrounding American Indian/Alaska Native peoples and stressed the importance of cultural heritage. As a leader, Wilma Mankiller worked with others on the Indian Child Welfare Act, which protected Native children from being removed from their families in cases of custody, foster care, and adoption. After her second term as the Principal Chief, Mankiller traveled around the country to give lectures and speeches on tribal sovereignty, women’s rights, healthcare, and cancer awareness.
During her term as the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, she contributed significantly to the education of Native heritage and to the advancement of educational institutions in the Cherokee Nation.
The inclusion of a female Native leader to the national awards categories honors the traditional, cultural ways of American Indian/Alaska Native people whose culture respects and values both men and women.
To be eligible for this award, the nominee must meet one or more of the following criteria:
- Promote equal educational opportunity for American Indian/Alaska Native children.
- Help schools acquire and use information about federal legislation affecting American Indians/Alaska Natives.
- Help schools develop programs to enhance the education of American Indian/Alaska Native children.
- Help eliminate the misuse of federal funds that are set aside for American Indian/Alaska Native education.
- Promote, design, and coordinate training programs for counselors and educators who work with American Indian/Alaska Native students.
- Promote educational American Indian/Alaskan native issues in educational setting for professional development growth.
- Help dispel myths, stereotypes, and historical inaccuracies of the American Indian/Alaska Native community.
Awarded in odd-numbered years.