Wilma Mankiller: Cherokee Leader


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.