Barbie has announced its newest release for its Inspiring Women series: a tribute to the late Wilma Mankiller, a renowned Native American activist and the first female Principle Chief of the Cherokee Nation.
The doll, which depicts Mankiller as she appears in a 2005 photo taken by her husband Charlie Soap, was designed with input from both her estate and representatives of the Cherokee Nation.
“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 Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “She not only served in a role dominated by men during a time that tribal nations were suppressed, but she led. Wilma Mankiller is a champion for the Cherokee Nation, for Indian Country and even my own daughter.”
Mankiller was regarded as a strong advocate and consensus builder for Native American communities and their complicated relationship with the federal government, inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993 and bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998.
“I am deeply honored Mattel is recognizing Wilma with the Wilma Mankiller doll. Wilma inspired me and many others to make the world a better place. As her community development partner for over thirty years, we shared a passion for empowering Indian communities and educating future generations,” said Soap.
Born in 1945 in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, she was galvanized to join the larger movement for Native American self determination following the 1969 occupation of Alcatraz Island by Native American students and activists. She began a career as a social worker and community advocate in California’s Bay Area, before moving back to Oklahoma. While there, Mankiller worked on the Bell Waterline Project, a 16-mile waterline building effort among the Cherokee community in Bell, Oklahoma, and the subsequent documentary Cherokee Word for Water by friend and producer Kristina Kiehl.
In 1985, she was elected first Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation and remained in the role for 10 years. She is credited with revitalizing the Nations tribal government in her efforts to improve healthcare and housing services in her community. “Wilma Mankiller’s legacy was marked by her resounding commitment to Cherokee self-determination, which opened the door for the tribe to run its own services for its people, and the cultural value of ‘Gadugi’ — a Cherokee word that describes the community working together for the greater good,” the company wrote in its announcement.
Mankiller died in 2010 of pancreatic cancer, and was memorialized at her death by her close friend and women’s rights activist Gloria Steinem. “The millions she touched will continue her work, but I will miss her every day of my life,” honored Steinem.
The Inspiring Women series, launched in 2018, features dolls in the likeness of historic icons like Mankiller — “Courageous women who took risks, changed rules, and paved the way for generations of girls to dream bigger than ever,” Mattel explains. The line includes women like civil rights and women’s suffrage advocate Ida B. Wells, singer and entertainer Celia Cruz, pioneering pilot Bessie Coleman, and actress Anna May Wong, among many others.
“Wilma’s impact on women’s rights and her strength to break down barriers continues to be an inspiration for women and girls in Native communities throughout our world,” wrote Kiehl. “Wilma always brought others to the table with her and she would be very happy that Mattel is including other indigenous dolls. Barbie celebrating her legacy with the Wilma Mankiller Inspiring Women doll continues to share her story with so many others for years to come.”
The Wilma Mankiller Inspiring Women doll is available on Mattel Shop and in retail stores now.