Barbie is more than just a plastic doll as it embodies the dreams of young girls. Barbie has been and continues to be a means for imagining a bright future for decades. Barbie, owned by the Mattel brand, has become increasingly iconic in recent years, aiming to diversify the dolls' skin tones, hair textures, and body types. The brand is also expanding its collection to include more diverse stories, including the "Inspiring Women" series featuring Rosa Parks, Jane Goodall, Bessie Coleman and more. The latest instalment pays homage to her iconic leader by recreating Wilma Mankiller, the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation, as a Barbie doll.
Mankiller, recently immortalised on American billboards, was born in Oklahoma in 1945. A member of the Cherokee Nation, she moved to California as a child as part of a government program aimed at urbanising the indigenous people, which had a devastating impact on her reservation and community. Her advocacy for women and Native communities began in her early years as a social worker in California, before Mankiller eventually returned to the Cherokee Nation.
Mankiller was a tireless advocate in her community. She established a community development agency to improve access to housing and water (which remains a struggle on many reservations to this day). In 1985, she became the first woman to be elected supreme chief of the Cherokee Nation. She courageously led a sovereign nation, helped reduce child mortality, and promoted educational success, among many other accomplishments. Although she retired from that position in 1995, she continued her involvement until she died in 2010. She was inducted into the Women's Hall of Fame in 1993 and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998.
Mattel's view of Mankiller is based on a fully dressed photo taken by her husband in 2005. She wears a four-coloured ribbon dress representing the four cardinals. Representatives from her estate and the Cherokee Nation contributed their ideas to the design process. Her husband, Charlie Sopa, said, "We are honoured that Mattel will honour Wilma with the Wilma Mankiller doll. Wilma inspired me and so many others to make the world a better place. It gave me a ration. As their community development partner for over 30 years, we share a passion for strengthening India's communities and educating future generations.”
“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.”