My name is Mankiller, and in the old Cherokee Nation, when we lived here in the Southeast, we lived in semi-autonomous villages, and there was someone who watched over the village, who had the title of mankiller. And I'm not sure what you could equate that to, but it was sort of like a soldier or someone who was responsible for the security of the village, and so anyway this one fellow liked the title mankiller so well that he kept it as his name, and that's who we trace our ancestry back to.
I think the most important issue we have as a people is what we started, and that is to begin to trust our own thinking again and belive in ourselves enough to think that we can articulate our own vision of the future and then work to make sure that that vision becomes a reality.
Friends describe me as someone who likes to sing and dance along the edge of the roof. I try to encourage young women to be willing to take risks, to stand up for the things they believe in, and to step up and accept the challenge of serving in leadership roles.
Recognizing the good, not just in one's own personal circumstances, but in the world, makes anything possible. When I am asked about the important characteristics of leadership, being of good, positive mind is at the top of my list. If a leader can focus on the meritorious characteristics of other people and try to play to their strengths as well as find value in even the most difficult situation, she can inspire hope and faith in others and motivate them to move forward.
I hope many of you will be people that question why things are and why we have to do them the way we have always done them. I hope you will take some risks, exert some real leadership on issues, and if you will, dance along the edge of the roof as you continue for life.
We are a revitalized tribe. After every major upheaval, we have been able to gather together as a people to rebuild a community and a government. Individually and collectively, Cherokee people possess an extraordinary ability to face down adversity and continue moving forward. We are able to do that because our culture, though certainly diminished, has sustained us since time inmemorial. This Cherokee culture is a well-kept secret.
We celebrate Thanksgiving along with the rest of America, maybe in different ways and for different reasons. Despite everything that's happened to us since we fed the Pilgrims, we still have our language, our culture, our distinct social system. Even in a nuclear age, we still have a tribal people.
Negative thoughts were treated by Cherokee healers with the same medicines as wounds, headaches, or physical illness. It was believed that unchecked negative thoughts can permeate the being and manifest themselves in negative actions.
The happiest people I've ever met, regardless of their profession, their social standing, or their economic status, are people that are fully engaged in the world around them. The most fulfilled people are the ones who get up every morning and stand for something larger than themselves. They are the people who care about others, who will extend a helping hand to someone in need or will speak up about an injustice when they see it.
Western movies always seemed to show Indian women washing clothes at the creek and men with a tomahawk or spear in their hands, adorned with lots of feathers. That image has stayed in some people's minds. Many think we're either visionaries, `noble savages,' squaw drudges or tragic alcoholics. We're very rarely depicted as real people who have greater tenacity in terms of trying to hang on to our culture and values system than most people.
One of the things my parents taught me, and I'll always be grateful as a gift, is to not ever let anybody else define me; that for me to define myself . . . and I think that helped me a lot in assuming a leadership position.
Growth is a painful process. If we’re ever going to collectively begin to grapple with the problems that we have collectively, we’re going to have to move back the veil and deal with each other on a more human level.
Though many non-Native Americans have learned very little about us, over time we have had to learn everything about them. We watch their films, read their literature, worship in their churches, and attend their schools. Every third-grade student in the United States is presented with the concept of Europeans discovering America as a "New World" with fertile soil, abundant gifts of nature, and glorious mountains and rivers. Only the most enlightened teachers will explain that this world certainly wasn't new to the millions of indigenous people who already lived here when Columbus arrived.
A significant number of people believe tribal people still live and dress as they did 300 years ago. During my tenure as principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, national news agencies requesting interviews sometimes asked if they could film a tribal dance or if I would wear traditional tribal clothing for the interview. I doubt they asked the president of the United States to dress like a pilgrim for an interview.
It should be remembered that hundreds of people of African ancestry also walked the Trail of Tears with the Cherokee during the forced removal of 1838-1839. Although we know about the terrible human suffering of our native people and the members of other tribes during the removal, we rarely hear of those black people who also suffered.
It's like everybody's sitting there and they have some kind of veil over their face, and they look at each other through this veil that makes them see each other through some stereotypical kind of viewpoint. If we're ever gonna collectively begin to grapple with the problems that we have collectively, we're gonna have to move back the veil and deal with each other on a more human level.