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First female Cherokee leader to headline Purdue’s Project Respect

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Wilma Mankiller, the first principal female chief of the Cherokee Nation, will speak about the role of positive thinking and women’s leadership in the 21st century Feb. 19 in Stewart Center’s Loeb Playhouse.

The lecture, which begins at 7:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public, is the feature event of Project Respect, an annual series designed to increase awareness of diversity. This year’s series is scheduled for Feb. 18 through March 7 at various campus locations.

Mankiller was born in Oklahoma, but when she was a young girl her family moved to San Francisco as part of a government relocation program for Native Americans.

She became active in Native American issues in 1969 when a group of university students occupied Alcatraz Island to draw attention to issues affecting their tribes. She then began working in preschool and adult education programs with the Pit River Tribe of California. She returned home outside Tahlequah, Okla., in 1977 and began working for the Cherokee Nation.

In 1983, Mankiller was elected deputy chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. She became the first female in modern history to lead a major Native American tribe in 1985 when the principal chief resigned. She was elected to the post in 1987 and re-elected in 1991. She guided the nation, which had an enrolled population of more than 156,000, an annual budget of $75 million and more than 1,200 employees over 7,000 square miles, until she resigned in 1995.

During her administration, the Cherokee Nation Community Development Department was founded, the Sequoyah High School was revived, and the tribe’s population increased from 55,000 to 156,000. She also helped members of the tribe receive financial and technical assistance so they could open small businesses. Her efforts helped the tribe become less reliant on welfare and more economically self-sufficient.

She has won several awards, including Ms. Magazine Woman of the Year in 1987 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and is in the National Women’s Hall of Fame. She has written two books, “Mankiller: A Chief and Her People” and “Every Day is a Good Day: Reflections of Contemporary Indigenous Women,” and helped write a third, “The Reader’s Companion to U.S. Women’s History.”

The complete schedule for Project Respect events includes:

  • Feb. 20, 7 p.m. Beering Hall, Room 1248. “Whose Feminism Is It Anyway: An Article Reading and Discussion.” Emi Koyama’s piece, “Whose Feminism Is It Anyway? The Unspoken Racism of the Trans Inclusion Debate,” addresses race and racism in the transgender community and activism. Visit the Project Web site,, to download the article before the event.
  • Feb. 21, 4- 5 p.m., Stewart Center, rooms 302 and 306. “Books and Coffee.” Julio Ramirez, professor of civil engineering, leads a discussion of the book,”The World is Flat,” by New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman.
  • Feb. 22, 7 p.m., Black Cultural Center. “Women’s Art, Women’s Vision, Women’s Dreams: A Womanist Poetry Event.” Poets will share poems about women’s talents, abilities, experiences, dreams, vision and art beyond the boundaries of race, class and sexual orientation.
  • Feb. 24, 6-8 p.m., Purdue Memorial Union South Ballroom. “Women in Music.”
  • Feb. 26, 7 p.m., Fowler Hall in Stewart Center. “Diversity Without Division: Building an Inclusive Campus.” Keith Boykin, former adviser to President Clinton and host of BET’s “My Two Cents,” talks about how Purdue can become more inclusive.
  • Feb. 27, 7 p.m., Fowler Hall in Stewart Center. Showing of “The Devil Came on Horseback.” This documentary exposes the genocide occurring in Darfur, Sudan, as seen through the eyes of an American witness.
  • Feb. 28, 4 to 5 p.m., Stewart Center, rooms 302 and 306. “Books and Coffee.” Maggie Berns, professor of English and faculty adviser for the Student English Association, will discuss Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” the winning selection among four books chosen by the Purdue SEA.
  • Feb. 29, 7 to 9 p.m. Purdue Memorial Union West Faculty Lounge. “African Passport.” African culture – including music, dance and information – are featured at this Passport Series event.
  • Feb. 29, 8 p.m., Loeb Playhouse in Stewart Center. “Noche Flamenca, featuring Soledad Barrio.” This narrative-driven, theatrical representation is inspired by the character Ellida Wangel from Henrik Ibsen’s “The Lady from the Sea.”
  • March 1. Ninth annual Indiana Latino Leadership Conference. Learn more about the conference at
  • March 4, 7 p.m., Stewart Center, Room 313, “Educate Yourself: A Forum on Affirmative Action.” A panel of experts will answer questions about affirmative action and its effects on everyday life.
  • March 5, 3-5 p.m., Purdue University Armory, Room 101. “Harriet A. Jacobs Lecture Series.” Kwakiutl L. Dreher, assistant professor of English and ethnic studies at the University of Nebraska and a performance artist, will give a talk based on her new book, “Dancing on the White Page: Black Women Entertainers Writing Autobiography.”

Project Respect, which was first organized in 2001, is sponsored by the Affirmative Action Office; African American Studies and Research Center; Black Cultural Center; Purdue Convocations; Diversity Resource Office and DiversiKey; Indiana Transgender Rights Advocacy Alliance; Interfraternity Council; Latino Cultural Center; Office of the Dean of Students; Native American Educational and Cultural Center; Office of the Provost; Panhellenic Association; Purdue Intercollegiate Athletics; Purdue Student Union Board; Purdue Student Government; Student Access, Transition and Success Programs and Student Orientation Committee; University Residences; Office of the Vice President for Human Relations; Women Studies Program; and the Women’s Resource Office.

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 July 2019