Documentary on prominent Native American activist shown

Nathan Lesch, Staff Reporter

In conjunction with the Center for Civic Engagement and Learning, LGBT Center, Flora Stone Mather Center for Women, Ellipsis Institute for Women of Color in the Academy, Lake Erie Native American Council and YWCA Greater Cleveland, Case Western Reserve University’s Social Justice Institute screened the documentary “Mankiller” and hosted its director and producer Valerie Red-Horse Mohl on Tuesday, March 26. This event was free, open to the public and included refreshments.

The documentary followed the life of Wilma Mankiller, who was born in 1945, lived her life as a Cherokee activist and leader and died in 2010. Mankiller grew up impoverished in Oklahoma, but moved to San Francisco in her adolescence as part of a federal program to urbanize Native Americans. The documentary described this move as her personal “trail of tears” experience.

According to Mankiller, “it was completely different than what we were accustomed to.”

In San Francisco, Mankiller became involved in the Occupation of Alcatraz, which kickstarted her passion for activism.

Soon thereafter, Mankiller moved with her two daughters back to Cherokee land in Oklahoma. In Oklahoma, Mankiller became involved in tribal leadership and service and pioneered self-help as a means to better the community. In 1983, she became deputy principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, and in 1985, the first female principal chief in the modern era. She faced significant sexism and health problems but made great strides in education, job training and Native American rights and healthcare for the Cherokee people. She was also a prominent feminist and worked to promote and empower Native American women to be leaders.

When the documentary concluded, Red-Horse Mohl answered questions about “Mankiller,” the production of the documentary and her experiences as a Cherokee woman. Red-Horse Mohl produced the documentary with Gale Anne Hurd, one of Hollywood’s biggest producers, responsible for “The Terminator” series, “Aliens” and “The Walking Dead.” “Mankiller” was produced for the Public Broadcast Service and took seven years to create.

Creating the documentary was challenging and time consuming.

“With a documentary, you’re creating the script as you go,” explained Red-Horse Mohl, commenting on why the documentary took so long to produce. “It was a lengthy [process].”

However, it was also fulfilling and important. According to Red-Horse Mohl, one of the biggest achievements of the movie is inspiring and encouraging women to run for office.