Women Play Important Roles in Cherokee Culture and Government

Wilma Mankiller

Wilma Mankiller

Guest Commentary

Published March 21, 2016

Historically, the Cherokee Nation is a matrilineal society so we have always looked to strong women for guidance and leadership. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, this fact is as true today as ever.

As Principal Chief, I have placed talented women within this administration. Cherokee Nation Treasurer Lacy Horn is an award-winning fiscal manager who has ensured positive growth and responsible stewardship. Cherokee Nation Secretary of Natural Resources Sara Hill is raising the profile of our conservation and preservation efforts of our land, air and water. Angela Jones, a Cherokee Nation Supreme Court Justice I appointed two years ago, is the second woman to hold a seat on our highest court.

Within Cherokee Nation Businesses, we now have four female vice presidents: Melody Cable (Internal Audit), Amanda Clinton (Communications), Molly Jarvis (Marketing) and Kim Teehee (Government Relations). We continue to diversify the CNB board of directors, and today Tommye Wright and Janelle Fullbright help guide that esteemed board.

The tribe’s legislative body, the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council, is shaped, in part, by Deputy Speaker Victoria Vazquez and Councilors Frankie Hargis, Janees Taylor and Wanda Hatfield. Their voice, leadership and vision are helping drive the Cherokee Nation into a brighter future. Additionally, many of our tribal programs, service areas and departments are directed by women.

This month is a time to celebrate the women in our lives and in our tribe, including former Principal Chief Wilma Mankiller. The health center bearing her name in Sitwell just underwent a $10 million expansion, and we dedicated a new sculpture there in her honor.

Over the past year, the conversation about removing Andrew Jackson from the twenty-dollar bill has escalated. For generations, it’s been an insult to our history and our ancestors to see his image on currency. It’s also simply not right that we do not have a prominent woman from American history on any dollar bill. Wouldn’t it be ironic if Chief Mankiller, the first female chief of our tribal government, were selected to replace Jackson?

Principal Chief Bill John Baker

Principal Chief Bill John Baker

To create a more female-friendly work environment, last year we expanded maternity leave policies to include eight weeks, fully paid, for expectant mothers who work for the Cherokee Nation. This allows our employees to continuing working for the Cherokee people while meeting their family obligations.

This month also marked the third anniversary of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act being signed into law by President Barack Obama. At Cherokee Nation, we remain resolute in our commitment to protect women from the epidemic of domestic violence. We created the ONE FIRE Victim Services office to be a beacon of hope and safety.

VAWA-related legislation is being developed for the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council to consider, and by the end of the year, the tribe will be able to prosecute non-Indians in tribal court for domestic violence crimes that occur on our tribal lands.

Cherokee women are proud and powerful and fuel our success as a tribe. We should celebrate that this month and every month of the year.


Bill John Baker is the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.

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