NSU honors late Cherokee Nation leader during Wilma Mankiller Day
BY SARA PLUMMER World Staff Writer
Friday, January 25, 2013
1/25/13 at 3:18 AM
TAHLEQUAH - Northeastern State University recognized one of the state's most beloved tribal leaders Thursday during Wilma Mankiller Day.
The event was part celebration and part memorial, as Mankiller's two daughters, Gina Olaya and Felicia Olaya, and her husband, Charlie Soap, each shared their remembrances of a mother, wife, activist, leader, author and friend.
"Wilma was fun, she was funny, pleasant to be around. Someone earlier said she smiled a lot, and she did, but she was also a hard worker," Soap said. "With all the health problems she had, she still had more energy than the healthy people I know."
The former Cherokee Nation principal chief was one of several people being honored during NSU's Be the Change Week, which kicked off Monday on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Other figures recognized during the week include women's rights advocate Gloria Steinem and the Greensboro Four, students who staged sit-ins at Woolworth's lunch counter in 1960 during segregation in the South.
Student Activities Director Chris Adney said NSU had participated in the MLK Day of Service for several years, but this year an entire week was dedicated to observing and honoring leadership in the United States.
Unlike other activities for Be the Change Week that were geared toward students, Wilma Mankiller Day was open to the community.
The ceremony began with a Cherokee drum circle and singing and a grand entry of Mankiller's family and friends as well as NSU officials, led by a Cherokee Nation Color Guard.
Mary Kay Henderson, director of the Cherokee National Youth Choir, sang two of Mankiller's favorite gospel songs, "Beulah Land" and "Amazing Grace," in Cherokee, as well as the national anthem, in Cherokee and English. Dancers from Sequoyah and Tahlequah high schools also performed.
Being the first Sequoyah Fellow at NSU, Mankiller had a special connection to the university, so it was natural that she was honored, organizers said.
"She's a prominent figure," Adney said. "So many students have some level of Cherokee connections."
Charlena Blackbear is a senior at NSU and a member of the Cherokee Nation. When she heard that NSU was hosting a Wilma Mankiller Day, she decided to attend.
"I've grown up hearing about her. She was a big help in our community," said Blackbear, who grew up in Spavinaw and remembers Mankiller and Soap coming to her town when she was a child to help Cherokees in need.
"They were a big part of our community. I remember them coming out and visiting," she said.
Pamela Iron, who was Mankiller's chief of staff, described her friend and colleague as thoughtful and forward-thinking and as someone who liked to debate.
"She relished a good debate," Iron said. "She surrounded herself with people who had different opinions."
Blackbear's favorite part of the ceremony was watching video clips of Mankiller speaking.
"She had a good way with words," she said. "You could tell she cared about everybody."
Gina Olaya finished her presentation by reading a quote from her mother that still hangs in the kitchen of the Mankiller family home in Adair.
"The meaning of life is to be in balance and harmony with every living thing in creation," she said. "We must also understand our own insignificance in the totality of things."
Original Print Headline: Once a chief, forever a leader
Sara Plummer 918-581-8465
Members of the HOPE Club dancers including Ray Smith perform a traditional native dance during Wilma Mankiller Day at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah on Thursday. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World
Charlie Soap talks about his late wife, former Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Wilma Mankiller, at Northeastern State University on Thursday. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World
Members of a drum band including Kelly Anquoe (clockwise from bottom), Pat Oyelei, Racy Christie, Quinton Case, Onen Rhoades, Leslie Hannah, Dustin Jones and Muhayr Locust perform traditional American Indian drum beats during Wilma Mankiller Day on Thursday at Northeastern State University. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World
Felicia Olaya (left) and Gina Olaya pay tribute to their mother, former Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Wilma Mankiller, on Thursday at Northeastern State University. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World