Mankiller served 10 years as principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, beginning in 1987. She was the first woman elected to that position.
In 1998, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Clinton. The Medal of Freedom is the highest honor given civilians in the United States.
President Obama issued this statement today:
"I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Wilma Mankiller today. As the Cherokee Nation’s first female chief, she transformed the Nation-to-Nation relationship between the Cherokee Nation and the Federal Government, and served as an inspiration to women in Indian Country and across America. A recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, she was recognized for her vision and commitment to a brighter future for all Americans. Her legacy will continue to encourage and motivate all who carry on her work. Michelle and I offer our condolences to Wilma’s family, especially her husband Charlie and two daughters, Gina and Felicia, as well as the Cherokee Nation and all those who knew her and were touched by her good works."
Cherokee Principal Chief Chad Smith issued this statement: