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First female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation will be featured on U.S. coin


It's Friday, when we hear from StoryCorps. In 1985, Wilma Mankiller became the first woman to lead the Cherokee Nation. Her daughter and grandson, Gina Olaya and Kellen Quinton, came to StoryCorps to talk about the challenges she faced when she became chief.

GINA OLAYA: People thought that we would be the laughing stock of all tribes if we had a female leader.


OLAYA: There was one time when the five civilized tribes had, like, a joint meeting. And they purposefully left her out.

QUINTON: Right. They didn't have a chair for her.

OLAYA: Yeah. So she found a chair, dragged it in and forced her way up to the table. They get through everything, and they were adjourning the meeting, and she stood up and said, no, I have something to say.

QUINTON: And she was heard. People respected her fully after they gave her the moment.

OLAYA: And in the second election, she won by almost 83% of the vote. She did what she needed to do to prove those naysayers wrong.

QUINTON: Right. But to me, she was just Grandma. We would be joking and dancing and acting a fool together and having a great time.

OLAYA: How did you feel when she came to your games? - 'cause you know she had that scream that everybody in the whole place could hear.

QUINTON: (Laughter) I love that other people got to see that human element of her. She doesn't have to be the epitome of strength and grace at all times. She gets to have fun, too.

OLAYA: But your cousins still called her Grandma Chief.


OLAYA: (Laughter). You know, it took me a long time to think about whom I was going to sit across from in this interview. And I picked you because you were the closest that I had to her.

QUINTON: It's a gift to be here. And I definitely attempt to model myself after her. You know, I had a friend of mine whose little girl wanted to do her end of the year essay about Grandma. And to hear that people still think about her - I mean, she's going to be on the quarter soon. Who would have ever imagined a Native American woman would have been on the quarter of the United States of America? I mean...

OLAYA: Right. It's mind-blowing.

QUINTON: It really is.


INSKEEP: They're right. Next year, the U.S. Mint will feature her image on a quarter - Wilma Mankiller, who died in 2010. We heard from Kellen Quinton and Gina Olaya, who recorded their conversation in Oklahoma City. The interview will be archived in the Library of Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jo Corona