Wilma Mankiller, the first woman to be elected chief of a major American Indian tribe — the Cherokee Nation — was once a Bay Area resident and a strong advocate for Native American children in Oakland’s public schools. She died Tuesday in Oklahoma at age 64.
In our library, I found a small envelope stamped “MANKILLER, WILMA/ INDIAN LEADER, OAK.” Inside were several articles, including a Tribune story from January 9, 1977. Susan Shoemaker, then an education writer for the newspaper, reported that Mankiller and other Native Americans “believe the school district simply does not care about their children.”
“Oakland public school services are just inadequate for American Indian students,” Mankiller was quoted as saying.
Mankiller was director of the Native American Youth Center in East Oakland, and according to Shoemaker’s story, she also worked to rebuild the Oakland school district’s Native American programs after its two coordinators quit at the same time. Does anyone know the status of that program today? I can’t find information about it, if it does exist.
I’m interviewing some people this afternoon who worked with Mankiller in the 70s. If you knew her, or if you have photos of her in Oakland, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.