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A new quarter honors Native American leader and activist Wilma Mankiller

Wilma Mankiller is being honored with a new U.S. quarter.
J. Pat Carter
Wilma Mankiller is being honored with a new U.S. quarter.

Some coin enthusiasts will be able to add a quarter dedicated to the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation to their collections on Monday.

The Wilma Mankiller quarter is the third coin released under aU.S. Mint program celebrating the achievement of diverse prominent women in American history.

Mankiller led the Cherokee Nation from 1985 to 1995 and is credited with boosting tribal enrollment and employment and reforming the tribe's programs for health, children and housing.

On one side of the quarter there's a portrait of President George Washington. The other side you'll find the late chief in a traditional shawl. On her left is the seven-pointed star of the Cherokee Nation.

The Cherokee National History Museum in Tahlequah, Okla., will host a launch event and livestream Monday morning, where some of the coins will be made available to the public.

Wilma Pearl Mankiller was born in 1945 in Tahlequah. The surname "Mankiller" refers to a traditional Cherokee military rank, like a captain or major.

"I'm fairly soft spoken and people, sort of, have an image of what a woman named Mankiller would be like, and I don't think that I really fit their image," she told Fresh Air in 1993. "And I know it's an unusual name so I, you know, I'm not defensive or offended by people's reaction to it."

Mankiller became the first woman to head a major Native American nation in the U.S. She served two years as deputy principal chief from 1983-1985, followed by a decade as principal chief.

The Wilma Mankiller quarter is displayed in Denver in March. The Mint is holding a release event on Monday at the Cherokee National History Museum.
Jason Connolly / AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images
The Wilma Mankiller quarter is displayed in Denver in March. The Mint is holding a release event on Monday at the Cherokee National History Museum.

Under her leadership, tribe enrollment tripled, employment doubled and new housing, health centers and children's programs were established, according to The Wilma Mankiller Foundation.

In 1998, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton, the highest civilian honor in the U.S.

Mankiller nearly died in a severe car accident in 1979. She said the experience was life-changing, in that it led her to accept what she called a Cherokee approach to life.

"I think the Cherokee approach to life is being able to continually move forward with kind of a good mind and not focus on the negative things in your life and the negative things you see around you, but focus on the positive things and try to look at the larger picture and keep moving forward," Mankiller told Fresh Air in 1993.

"[It] also taught me to look at the larger things in life rather than focusing on small things, and it's also awfully, awfully hard to rattle me after having faced my own mortality ... so the things I learned from those experiences actually enabled me to lead. Without those experiences, I don't think I would have been able to lead. I think I would have gotten caught up in a lot of nonsensical things."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tekella Foster

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