Native American chief Wilma Mankiller honoured with a Barbie

The activist and leader was the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation

Toy maker Mattel is honouring the late Cherokee leader Wilma Mankiller with a Barbie doll. Photo: Mattel
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Wilma Mankiller, the Cherokee Nation's first female principal chief, has been honoured with a Barbie doll.

Mankiller, who died in 2010, led the tribe for a decade until 1995 and inspired countless Native American children as a powerful but humble leader. She was also known for her work promoting early education and rural healthcare. She focused on improving social conditions through consensus and on restoring pride in Native heritage. She met with three US presidents and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.

During her time as chief, Mankiller met snide remarks about her surname, a military title, with humour. “Mankiller is actually a well-earned nickname," she once said.

The Barbie doll is part of toymaker Mattel's Inspiring Women series, which has included Maya Angelou, Ida B Wells, Jane Goodall and Madam CJ Walker.

"We’re proud to honour principal chief Wilma Mankiller as our newest Barbie Inspiring Women doll, lifting up courageous women who paved the way for generations to dream big and believe that," Mattel said.

"In celebration of Wilma’s powerful legacy, Barbie will donate to the American Indian Resource Centre, supporting initiatives to empower indigenous women and girls, and preserving culture and traditions within Native American communities."

Mankiller's Barbie doll features her wearing a ribbon skirt, black shoes and carrying a woven basket. Many say the doll is a fitting tribute for a remarkable leader who faced conflict head-on and helped the tribe triple its enrollment, double its employment and build new health centres and children's programmes.

Designer Carlyle Nuera took inspiration from a photo of Mankiller to emulate the turquoise dress and woven basket she carries, Mattel said.

The ribbon striping on her dress represents the four directions: north, south, east, and west, symbolising Mankiller’s commitment to all people throughout the world.

A public ceremony honouring Mankiller’s legacy is set for Tuesday in Tahlequah in northeast Oklahoma, where the Cherokee Nation is headquartered.

“When Native girls see it, they can achieve it, and Wilma Mankiller has shown countless young women to be fearless and speak up for Indigenous and human rights,” said Cherokee Nation's current principal chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “Wilma Mankiller is a champion for the Cherokee Nation, for Indian Country, and even my own daughter.”

Mankiller is the second Native American woman honoured with a Barbie doll. Famed aviator Bessie Coleman, who was of Black and Cherokee ancestry, was depicted earlier this year.

– Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: December 03, 2023, 8:00 AM