‘Take your values everywhere’ Mankiller urges students to change society’s perceptions

'Take your values everywhere' Mankiller urges students to change society's perceptions Wilma Mankiller, former principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, urged participants in the American Indian Journalism Institute Wednesday to use their core values, education and work in journalism to bring about a more accurate portrayal of contemporary tribal life. by David Lias Participants in the American Indian Journalism Institute – and their guests, many who are practicing journalists – were encouraged Wednesday to never stray from their true sense of self.

"I think it's really important to maintain your core values; your strong sense of who you are, and take that with you no matter where you go," said Wilma Mankiller at an evening dinner held at the Al Neuharth Media Center on the USD campus. "You don't have to be on your tribal reservation or in your tribal community to keep your tribal background. You can take your values anywhere."

Mankiller, 57, is the former principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, the second largest tribe in the United States.

She was born in Mankiller Flats near Tahlequah, OK. When she was a child, she and her family were moved to California as part of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Relocation program.

In 1974, she divorced her husband, by whom she had two daughters, and moved back to her ancestral home. In 1985, she became the first woman chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and the first female in modern history to lead a major Native American tribe.

Mankiller worked with an enrolled population of over 140,000 and an annual budget of more than $75 million.

Her more than 1,200 employees were spread over 7,000 square miles.

"There are so few public interest stories about native people in the newspapers, especially in the small community newspapers," Mankiller said.

Seldom does one read a story about native people doing typical things such as sending a family member off to college, she said.

"Very rarely do you read about something going on in somebody's life," she said. "Most of the stories, if you were to catalog them, would be about taxation issues, about gaming issues, and because of that, people don't really understand who we are, and what goes on in our contemporary lives."

Mankiller told the institute participants that they can change perceptions by helping society learn what Native American life is truly like.

"You have the ability to do that when you go back to your homes, whether you work for a tribal newspaper, or whether you work for a larger newspaper off your tribal land base," she said. "You know the people. You know the stories that aren't being told.

"It doesn't do any good for any of us to sit around and complain to each other about the public perception of native people," Mankiller said. "What's going to change is if you leave this program, stay in journalism, and decide to do what you can in your little piece of the world to create a more accurate portrayal of contemporary native people."

Twenty-one students representing 16 Native American tribes are participating in this year's American Indian Journalism Institute.

It is the largest program of its kind in the nation, and designed to teach aspiring American Indian journalists the basics of newsgathering.

The institute began June 1, and will wrap up June 20 at USD.

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