The late Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Wilma Mankiller’s depiction on the quarter shows an inner strength, Cherokee seal and symbolic placement for Indigenous nations.
The design was revealed last week by the U.S. Mint. Mankiller joins four others in becoming among the first women with images on circulating American money.
The coins will be released next year. Mankiller is the third in the series that includes poet Maya Angelou, astronaut Sally Ride, Chinese-American film star Anna May Wong and suffrage leader Nina Otero-Warren.
The U.S. Mint describes the design as Mankiller “with a resolute gaze to the future. The wind is at her back, and she is wrapped in a traditional shawl. To her left is the seven-pointed star of the Cherokee Nation.”
The coin adds the name of the Cherokee Nation in the Cherokee syllabary. That’s a powerful addition.
The design retains the motto — e pluribus unum — from the U.S. Great Seal as proposed by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson in 1776. It’s the Latin phrase meaning, “one from many” and is meant as a statement of American determination to form a single nation of many states.
The nation’s founding excluded Indigenous nations and its people as being part of America.
It wasn’t until 1924 that Native Americans born in the U.S. were considered American citizens. Indigenous people were given the right to vote in 1957, but some states still found ways to disenfranchise American Indian people.
Mankiller’s coin puts the Cherokee Nation name next to the motto intended to be a unifier. It is long overdue.
Mankiller’s legacy isn’t just because she was the first woman to lead the Cherokee Nation. It’s the good she did before, during and after her service as principal chief.
She entered public life as an activist for Native Americans and women. Working for her nation, she focused on getting clean water systems and rehabilitating houses for communities with high Indigenous populations in northeastern Oklahoma.
As chief, Mankiller tripled the tribe’s citizenship enrollment, doubled employment and added housing, health care centers and youth programs. Education increased, and infant mortality decreased. The financial and business side of the tribe modernized to become a national model.
Since then, the Cherokee Nation, along with other tribal nations, has been an important economic driver in the state, particularly in rural Oklahoma.
Mankiller left office in 1995 but continued her advocacy for Indigenous people, women and social justice. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993 and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998.