NE - According to the first woman chief of a major American Indian
tribe, good leaders possess four qualities - they are compassionate,
positive, able to get things done and good listeners.
Wilma Mankiller, former principal chief
of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, spoke Wednesday at Chadron State
College in the final lecture of the 2001-2002 Distinguished Speaker
She said members of American Indian tribes
must realize "no one is going to help us but ourselves."
"We must define for ourselves what
it means to be Cherokee, what it means to be Lakota, what it means
to be Omaha in the 21st century and then hold on to it," Mankiller
said. "If we care about our survival, we are going to have
to learn more about ourselves as a people and be willing to step
up to a leadership role."
Mankiller was elected deputy chief of
the Cherokee Nation in 1983. She ran for and won the position of
principal chief in 1987 and 1991.
Looking back on her years in leadership,
Mankiller said that rather than following their own agenda, good
leaders listen to the people and make things happen.
"If you don't have compassion for
people, I don't see how you can lead," Mankiller said.
"Good leaders look at a barrier or
a problem and see it as a challenge. They say, I'm not going
to let this barrier stop me. I'm going to go over it, or I'm going
to go around it, or I'm going to go under it, but I am not going
to let this barrier stop me.'"
Mankiller said she grew up in a rural,
traditional Cherokee village in Oklahoma. Her family of 12 did not
have electricity or indoor plumbing. Although outsiders often saw
poverty in her village, she said she saw neighbors helping each
"To this day, I still have that image
of what it means to be a part of a vibrant community where everybody
is interconnected and helping each other," she said.
When she was 10 years old, Mankiller's
family moved to San Francisco as part of the Bureau of Indian Affairs
relocation program, a program she called a "disaster."
The better life promised by the BIA led to life in a rough housing
project. Mankiller said she found solace at San Francisco Indian
Center, where she became an active member and volunteer, and found
role models who would help shape her future. Eventually, she went
to college and began to work as an advocate for American Indian
Mankiller said she never really felt whole
until she returned to Oklahoma in 1977. She began working for the
tribal government, and by 1982, she was director of community development.
The principal chief asked her to run for deputy chief in 1983. She
turned him down. But after a trip through a poor, rural area, Mankiller
said she realized that if she didn't run, she would have no right
"Every time I stepped into a leadership
role, I did it because I cared more about the issue than I cared
about what people would think about me," Mankiller said. "I
think that it is really important to get beyond your personal thoughts
and just focus on the issues."