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Cole Floor Speech on Resolution Honoring Wilma Mankiller

April 14, 2010

WASHINGTON – Congressman Tom Cole (OK-04) made the following remarks on the House floor regarding H. Res. 1237, a resolution honoring the life of Chief Wilma Mankiller.

MR COLE:  "I thank you, Mr. Speaker.

"Wilma Mankiller led a remarkable life.  As my friend, Congressman Boren, so eloquently stated, her beginnings were awfully humble. And frankly, they didn't get much better for a long time. She traveled to California and, unlike a lot of Oklahomans, did not find the prosperity that so many found there, returned home and went to work for the Cherokee Nation and worked through a succession of posts over a decade of increasing responsibility. Eventually, she became, of course, a principal chief of the second largest Indian tribe in America, first woman to do so and arguably the best leader that the tribe has had since its removal from North Carolina to Oklahoma.

"During her tenure as chief, she more than tripled the number of Cherokees, she doubled tribal employment. She added dozens of programs in nutrition, social services, education, cultural awareness and, frankly, she made the Cherokee Nation-- more than it was-- a force to be reckoned with. But a beneficent force -- not only in northeast Oklahoma, not only within the lives of its citizens, but quite frankly in Indian Country and in American politics.

"She was recognized for extraordinary achievements over her lifetime.  Honorary degrees, boards and foundations and, of course, again as my colleague and friend, Mr. Boren, mentioned, the highest civilian award that any American can receive, the Medal of Freedom.

"I knew Wilma Mankiller very well. She led a life based on principles. The first one was just absolute personal integrity. One of the most honest and honorable people I ever met in my life.

"The second was humility. She was the most approachable person that you would ever want to know. A total lack of pretension. And she believed very profoundly in service to others. Service, yes, to her tribe, service, yes, to Native Americans, but service beyond as a creed and as a value that she lived and acted on every single day of her life.

"She was a remarkable person to talk to because she was completely candid in her conversation, which is very unusual, particularly for a political figure. If you are going to be chief of the Cherokee Nation, I can assure you are a considerable and skillful politician in your own right. I remember on many occasions getting advice, and I remember her speaking in a very unvarnished way.

"I can't count the number of times that I heard her say in speeches when she got up --  she loved to speak truth to power-- that she identified herself: "I either am, (or have been) the principle chief of the Cherokee nation. If the United States government had had its way, I would have never been a chief; there would have never been a Cherokee Nation, or it would have ended and other tribes would have also been eliminated." And that's where she began her conversation from.

"She was a role model, of course, to women and to Native Americans everywhere. Particularly to my mother, who was the first Native American elected to the State Senate in Oklahoma. Close friend of Chief Mankiller's and somebody that, like me, admired her quite profoundly.

"As a leader she was always principled, she was determined, she was visionary but she was supremely practical in her political pursuits. She was tough, she was shrewd, she was dedicated to the Cherokee people and dedicated to Native Americans.

"She was an extraordinarily fierce defender of the concept of tribal sovereignty. She understood it in her bones and she advocated it and, frankly, enhanced it not only for her own people but for Native Americans everywhere. Having said that, she was always willing to partner with anyone. Didn't matter what your point of view was, didn't matter what your values were. She was a very devoted Democrat; my mother was a very fierce Republican. They found common ground again and again on issue after issue. In closing, I want to join Mr. Boren in expressing my profound sympathy to her family, obviously, to the great Cherokee nation, to Native Americans everywhere.

"I mean this with all sincerity: I've not seen her like before in my life. I don't think any of us will see her like again. With that I yield back, Mr. Speaker."