This year marked the first anniversary of the death of Wilma Mankiller, the iconic Cherokee Nation leader. To commemorate her life and passing, Fulcrum Publishing has re-released her classic book of interviews with Native women, Every Day Is a Good Day: Reflections by Contemporary Indigenous Women, in a Memorial Edition. New introductions by Native author Louise Erdrich and feminist movement leader Gloria Steinem help Mankiller’s book resonate more strongly than ever before.
Many things have happened since the book first appeared in 2004. The result is that this virtual gathering—for which Mankiller traveled, despite flagging health, to speak with 19 indigenous leaders on a variety of topics, weaving their thoughts into a seamless conversation—is an even more essential text.
As Steinem writes, it “could be the most important book of the new century if it were to get the mindfulness it deserves.” She deems it a must-read for liberals and conservatives alike: “Unlike those of us who know nothing of so-called prehistory, Native women and men have a tradition of balance to bring into the 21st century.”
Divided into seven sections—Harvest Moon, Ceremony, Context Is Everything, Governance: The People and the Land, Womanhood, Love and Acceptance, and The Way Home—the book contrasts Native experience with that of the wider world. The point of view is not just female, but also human.
“In a way, people think of sovereignty as an abstract concept,” says physician Linda Aranaydo, Muscogee (Creek), in Governance. “I think of it in terms of a mother taking care of a family. But sometimes sovereignty means people huffing and puffing about who is in charge.”
However, she continues, “Whoever is in charge needs to be sure to take care of our babies, take care of our elders, the communities, keep us together and make us be good humans.”
Whether they are being good humans, are nurturing humans or are governing humans, these women see all facets of life as part of the whole, and their imagery captures the rich tapestry of their lives.
“My mother taught me how to be a woman,” says Cherokee elder Florence Soap in the chapter on Womanhood. “She kept a beautiful garden with beans, corn, potatoes, yams, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and mustard.”
And yet nowadays, “There is no more subsistence from the land because the land base is so small,” says Clan Mother and teacher Audrey Shenandoah, Onondaga, in Context Is Everything.
The contributors come from a variety of backgrounds. They are physicians and healers like Aranaydo. They are activists like sisters Mary and Carrie Dann, Western Shoshone ranchers who have spent years fighting the federal bureaucracy to establish their nation’s right to graze cattle on its ancestral homelands. They are environmentalists like Sarah James, Nee’Tsaii Gwich’in, who works to preserve the Arctic Coastal Plains and advocates against oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The endurance of this book owes as much to these women’s resilience as to the staying power of its author. Although she died in April 2010 at age 64, Mankiller had survived and indeed surpassed what might be considered more than her share of misfortune.
In The Way Home, the chief, a key player in the rebuilding of her nation, wrote, “The question I am asked most frequently is why I remain such a positive person, after surviving breast cancer, lymphoma, dialysis, two kidney transplants and systemic myasthenia gravis. The answer is simple: I am Cherokee, and I am a woman. No one knows better than I that every day is indeed a good day.”