Wilma Mankiller faced an uphill battle to achieve her goals as both a woman and a Native American, but she faced the resistance with tenacity, eventually becoming the first woman ever to head the Cherokee nation, one of the country’s largest tribes.
To honor such a courageous and altruistic woman, #SeeHer Story, the digital video series from Katie Couric Media and PEOPLE, has chosen to look back at Mankiller’s story in this week’s episode.
The goal of #SeeHer Story is to recognize female trailblazers throughout the past 100 years and celebrate how they’ve helped to shape history and culture.
As this year marks the centennial anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, the series hopes to commemorate such an important time for women in history by recognizing fearless women who have made strides for others to follow in their footsteps.
The series — which is made up of short vignettes created and narrated by Couric — premiered on Oct. 18 and will air weekly on PEOPLE.com and @PeopleTV social handles.
In 1945, Mankiller was born on tribal land in Oklahoma but was relocated with her family by the Bureau of Indian Affairs at age 10.
She spent her years growing up in San Francisco in the late ’60s, quickly launching herself into the activism scene after being inspired by anti-war protests.
During her time fighting for other people’s rights, Mankiller realized that many of her own people were being oppressed — leading her to move back to Oklahoma and demand change.
Mankiller created programs to bring clean water and healthcare to the community, but her work didn’t stop there.
In 1983, she ran for Deputy Chief of the Cherokee Nation, continuing to stand her ground even when she faced opposition.
“People didn’t want to talk about issues with me, and they didn’t want to talk about the future of the tribe. They wanted to talk about the fact that they didn’t think women should lead. And so it was a low point, it was very hurtful,” she said.
Mankiller stayed strong — earning the Deputy Chief title and later becoming the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation just two years later.
Before retiring in 1995, Mankiller worked to expand education and health initiatives for the community, strengthen the Cherokee economy, and continue to fight for tribal rights in Washington.
She worked closely with activist Gloria Steinem, who once shared that “in a just country, Wilma Mankiller would be president.”
Though she didn’t run for president, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former President Bill Clinton in 1998 and received praise from former President Barack Obama at the time of her death in 2010.
“She served as an inspiration to women in Indian Country and across America. Her legacy will continue to encourage and motivate all who carry on her work,” the video quoted.
#SeeHer Story will also be a regular feature in PEOPLE’s print edition, the weekday morning newsletter Wake-Up Call with Katie Couric, on PeopleTV’s entertainment show PEOPLE Now as well as on PEOPLE Now Weekend.