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AMERICAN MOSAIC - Remembering Cherokee Nation Chief Wilma Mankiller

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Wilma Mankiller and President Bill Clinton in 1998
Wilma Mankiller and President Bill Clinton in 1998

I'm Doug Johnson.  Today we tell about the first woman chief of the Cherokee Nation, Wilma Mankiller, who died earlier this week.

We also answer a question about the great American writer Ernest Hemingway.

And we play music by a young jazz musician Esperanza Spalding.

(MUSIC)

Wilma Mankiller

DOUG JOHNSON: This past Tuesday, the Cherokee Nation and the United States lost a powerful leader.  Wilma Mankiller, former chief of the Cherokee Nation, died of cancer at her home in Adair, Oklahoma. She was sixty-four. Faith Lapidus tells about her life.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Wilma Mankiller was the first woman to lead the Cherokee Nation, based in Oklahoma.  She served as principal chief from nineteen eighty-five to nineteen ninety-five.  During that time, fifty percent more people registered as tribe members.  Miz Mankiller led efforts to build more houses and health care centers and expand educational possibilities for her tribe.

Wilma Mankiller was born in nineteen forty-five in Oklahoma.  She was one of eleven children.  Her mother was Irish and Dutch. Her father was Cherokee. They lived on family land called the Mankiller Flats. Her last name was an old term of respect for Indian warriors who guarded tribal villages.

In nineteen fifty-seven, the family moved to California under the Bureau of Indian Affairs Relocation Program.   Wilma Mankiller lived in and around San Francisco for the next twenty years.  She went to college and became an activist for Indian rights. She also studied community development.  And she married and gave birth to two daughters.

In nineteen seventy-seven she separated from her husband and returned to Oklahoma to serve the Cherokee Nation.  Wilma Mankiller faced many personal and health problems. In nineteen seventy-nine she was seriously injured in a car accident.  She had seventeen operations during an eighteen-month recovery. Miz Mankiller also had a muscle disease called myasthenia gravis and fought breast cancer and lymphoma.

Carolyn McClellan is an associate director at the National Museum of the American Indian. She is also a Cherokee who grew up in Oklahoma.  Miz McClellan praised Wilma Mankiller's ability to lead and help others during such personal difficulties.

"I had tremendous respect for her," Miz McClellan said.  She said Wilma Mankiller meant so much to girls who had no power at that time.

Wilma Mankiller was known for her effort to return the balance of power of the sexes to the Cherokee Nation.  She wrote about it in her book, "Every Day is a Good Day." She said that women had played an important part in Cherokee government and tribal life in the past.  But she wrote that women's roles decreased over time as the Cherokee people accepted the values of the larger American culture.  She said when she first sought political office in nineteen eighty-three it was as if "the strong role of women in Cherokee life had been forgotten by some of our own people." She said that when she left office, that had changed.

Former President Bill Clinton awarded Wilma Mankiller the Presidential Medal of Freedom in nineteen ninety-eight.  On Tuesday, President Obama expressed his sadness about her death. He said she transformed the nation-to-nation relationship between the Cherokee and the federal government.

(MUSIC)

Ernest Hemingway

DOUG JOHNSON: Gennady Bydzan from Kazakhstan wants to know about the writer Ernest Hemingway.

Ernest Hemingway was one of the best known  writers in American history.  He was one of the twentieth century's most important and influential writers.

He wrote many famous books and earned millions of dollars from his writing.   Among his best books are "The Old Man and The Sea," "For Whom the Bell Tolls," "A Farewell to Arms" and "The Sun Also Rises."  Many of his most famous books were written before he was thirty years old. Several were made into movies. He won many prizes for his writing and influenced many writers.  He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in nineteen fifty-four.

Ernest Hemingway's writing style is very simple yet very powerful. It may have been influenced by his work as a newspaper reporter.  Hemingway expressed little emotion in his writing. He said it would be too easy to do that. Instead, he tried to describe a situation so well that the reader would understand the emotion in it.

Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois, near Chicago, in eighteen ninety-nine.  He shot himself to death in nineteen sixty-one, just as his father had years earlier. Hemingway was sixty-one. He had lost the ability to write and was sick most of the time. He probably suffered from depression and drank too much alcohol.

Among the papers he left was one that described what he liked best: "To stay in places and to leave ,,, to trust, to distrust ... to no longer believe and believe again ... to watch the changes in the seasons ... to be out in boats ... to watch the snow come, to watch it go ... to hear the rain ... and to know where I can find what I want. "

(MUSIC)

Esperanza Spalding

DOUG JOHNSON: Esperanza Spalding is a young jazz musician who sings, plays the bass and writes her own music. The twenty-five year old plays jazz that is influenced by the sounds of funk, soul, samba and blues music. She has performed all over the world, even for President Obama. Critics say Esperanza Spalding is one of the most interesting and gifted examples of today's jazz music. Mario Ritter has more.

(MUSIC)

MARIO RITTER: That was "Junjo" from Esperanza Spalding's first album of the same name. Spalding grew up in Portland, Oregon. When she was about four years old, she heard her mother struggling to play a piece of music on the piano. After listening for a while, Esperanza was able to play the music by ear. She soon began writing music and by age five had started playing the violin.

Esperanza Spalding
Esperanza Spalding

By the age of fifteen, she was the head of her youth orchestra. And by twenty, Esperanza Spalding had graduated from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts.  She accepted a teaching position there. In her second album, "Esperanza," she sings in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. Here is "Samba Em Preludio."

(MUSIC)

Esperanza Spalding has played with some of the top jazz artists in the world. But she says the most important thing about jazz is that it is about right now. She says many people in the jazz world praise the music of fifty years ago. Esperanza Spalding has said that music and people change with the years. She says it is important to let jazz music breathe, and evolve in new ways. We leave you with the energetic sound of "She Got to You."

(MUSIC)

DOUG JOHNSON: I'm Doug Johnson. Our program was written by Chris Cruise, Dana Demange and Caty Weaver who was also the producer.

Do you have a question about people, places or things in America? Click Contact Us at the bottom of our Web site.  Or write to mosaic@voanews.com.  We may answer your question on the show.

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.

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