Wilma Mankiller: Cherokee Leader

Lesson Prepared By
Ray Tyler
Grade Level

Students will use the information they learned from reading the short biography of Wilma Mankiller, watching the video, Bell Water Project, and excerpts from her auto-biography, Mankiller: A Chief and Her People to discuss what makes someone an effective leader. Lesson will culminate in students brainstorming community based self-help projects that the class could organize at their school.


Two 45 minute class periods

  • Students will evaluate the characteristics associated with effective leaders
  • Students will reach a conclusion about whether effective leaders must understand the culture and circumstances of the people they are attempting to lead
  • Students will apply their conclusions to their own class and/or school by considering class and/or school improvement projects they believe correspond to the needs of the class and/or school
  • Short biography of Wilma Mankiller (Link)
  • Video clip of Bell Water Project
  • Primary source: Excerpt from Mankiller: A Chief and Her People
    • Excerpts can be found on page 4-5
  • Class discussion
    • What are the characteristics of a good leader?
  • Students individually read the Wilma Mankiller biography and answer accompanying questions
    • Identify character traits of Wilma Mankiller that made her an effective leader.
    • Name three obstacles that Wilma Mankiller had to overcome in her life.
    • Identify sources of strength Wilma Mankiller used to overcome those obstacles.
  • Students discuss and compare their answers with a partner


Next, show video of Bell Water Project

Divide the students into small groups, ideally 4-5 students per group. Students will read selected excerpts from Mankiller: A Chief and Her People and, working in their assigned groups, will discuss and answer the assigned questions.  

  • How did Mankiller use her rehabilitation time to her best advantage?
  • How did she envision using the “good mind approach” in her work?”
  • Mankiller seems to suggest that she was less ambitious when she returned to work than she previously had been. Does that surprise you? Why or why not?
  • How did Mankiller’s leadership style reflect both the needs and the attitudes she observed in the Cherokee culture?
  • What problems do you think Mankiller had to overcome while recruiting volunteers for the Bell project?
  • Predict how you think the people of Bell felt about their community after the project was completed.

Working in their groups, students will develop a “Shark Tank” proposal—a three minute proposal for a school based community project that identifies and need and would improve their school in some way

  • As a class, students will discuss and reach a consensus on which project would be the best to pursue as a class project or school-wide project
Assessment / Homework
  • Teachers can assign the readings for homework
  • Informal assessment of group discussions of questions accompanying excerpts from Mankiller: A Chief and Her People
  • Formal assessment—Shark Tank PowerPoint presentation for class/school project
  • Exit slip—review the class discussion that began the lesson: What are the characteristics of a good leader? Have the students identify one leadership action or idea of Wilma Mankiller’s that matches a characteristic identified in the class discussion. 
Future Research / Resources
  • Mankiller: A Chief and Her People by Wilma Mankiller and Michael Wallis, 1993

From the C3 Framework

  • D2.Civ.5.9-12. Evaluate cit­izens’ and institutions’ effec­tiveness in addressing social and political problems at the local, state, tribal, national, and/or international level.
  • D2.Civ.7.9-12. Apply civic virtues and democratic principles when working with others.


  • D2.Civ.14.9-12. Analyze historical, contemporary, and emerging means of chang­ing societies, promoting the common good, and protect­ing rights.