A Note From the Oklahoma Cherokee Nation

From: all-employees-bounces@lists.cherokee.org [mailto:all-employees-bounces@lists.cherokee.org] On Behalf Of Chad Smith
Sent: Tuesday, April 06, 2010 11:13 AM
To: All Employees (mailing list)
Subject: Wilma Mankiller

Dear Friends,
Our personal and national hearts are heavy with sorrow and sadness with the passing this morning of Wilma Mankiller, our former Principal Chief. We feel overwhelmed and lost when we realize she has left us but we should reflect on what legacy she leaves us. We are better people and a stronger tribal nation because her example of Cherokee leadership, statesmanship, humility, grace, determination and decisiveness. When we become disheartened, we will be inspired by remembering how Wilma proceeded undaunted through so many trials and tribulations. Years ago, she and her husband Charlie Soap showed the world what Cherokee people can do when given the chance, when they organized the self-help water line in the Bell community She said Cherokees in that community learned that it was their choice, their lives, their community and their future. Her gift to us is the lesson that our lives and future are for us to decide. We can carry on that Cherokee legacy by teaching our children that lesson.

Wilma asked that any gifts in her honor be made as donations to One Fire Development Corporation, a non-profit dedicated to advancing Native American communities though economic development, and to valuing the wisdom that exists within each of the diverse tribal communities around the world. Tax deductible donations can be made atwww.wilmamankiller.com as well as www.onefiredevelopment.org. The mailing address for One Fire Development Corporation is 1220 Southmore Houston, TX 77004.

Wilma Mankiller: Speaking About Her Life In Her Own Words

Wilma Pearl Mankiller Remembrance:
Watch video by clicking on this link

Rejecting cancer cliches that deal in terms of winning, or losing

“Why do you suppose when a person dies from cancer they say he lost the battle?” My son asked. His face was pinched with confusion. I blinked in surprise.

“Don’t worry Mom, I know dying is not about losing.” And with the zeal of a kid determined to restore order to the universe he announced, “Heaven is filled with winners.”

In 1991 my seven-year-old son faced a cancer diagnosis and received medical treatment of outstanding quality. For eight years his scans were clear and he was healthy and strong again. Then in 1999, at age fifteen, the tumor recurred and he received more excellent medical treatment. Still the brain tumor gained ground rapidly.

Courage, like love, requires hope to flourish. My son found his way through the stages as they came up. He held life in his two hands and was squeezing out its sweetest juices. Having a positive attitude was important to him. As ill as he was, he gave the impression he’d outlive all of us. But suddenly his condition worsened.

Following my son's death I received stacks of cards I treasured from earnest friends. Their sweet messages almost restored my courage, yet nearly all contained the lines, "We're so sorry Jay lost the fight."

Every day since I have begun to witness numerous random acts, and lives lived for which I call winning. The child on chemo who reassures a new friend that "her hair will too grow back." The teenager who drags his IV pole from his bed to sit outside with friends. The young mother who allows a Hospice nurse to help her wash her hair and take a bath. The father, neighbor, teacher, your friends and mine—every day ordinary people are called upon to do extraordinary things, like finding pockets of happiness, reaching deep, loving wide and living a good life in the midst of a cancer diagnosis—even when sometimes it appears life is coming to a full circle closure.

Perhaps not cancer, yet each one of us will die one day. What I know for sure is my son and dozens of others I’ve loved who have lived long and short lives with cancer have proved it is time to challenge and reject cancer-cliches that speak in terms of winning, or losing. Because isn’t life about how we play the game?

First published at Candlelighters - American Childhood Cancer Foundation
Copyright © Terra Trevor. All rights reserved.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Terra Trevor is an essayist, memoirist, nonfiction and short story writer. She values the collective experience and has collaborated with other writers and is a contributing author of 10 books including The People Who Stayed: Southeastern Indian Writing After Removal, The University of Oklahoma Press, Birthed from Scorched Hearts: Women Respond to War, Fulcrum Books. 

Her memoir Pushing up the Sky: A Mother's Story about transracial adoption and raising a child with cancer and a brain tumor, is widely anthologized with excerpts included in Children of the Dragonfly: Native American Voices On Child Custody and Education, The University of Arizona Press. Born in 1953 to a mixed blood family, and raised in southeast Los Angeles, with roots in Colorado and Oklahoma, her life was divided into two seasons; winter and camping. The home she carries within is mountains and pine trees.

  • If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. —Barry Lopez, in Crow and Weasel