– Native News Network
VIRGINIA BEACH, VIRGINIA – During the early 1980s, the small rural community of Bell, Oklahoma gained national attention when Wilma Mankiller led the struggle to build an 18 mile waterline to bring fresh drinking water to the small town.
This story is now on film in “The Cherokee Word for Water.” Filmed in Oklahoma in 2011, the film will have its Virginia premiere Sunday, June 9, at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art. The Virginia premiere is part of the SkyFest Native American Festival taking place at the 17th Street Park at the Virginia Beach oceanfront.
“The Cherokee concept of “gadugi” means working together to solve a problem. That’s just what happened in the tiny town of Bell 30 years ago. Cherokee Wilma Mankiller, along with Charlie Soap, led an all volunteer workforce which had endured a legacy of being dehumanized and dispossessed of their land and identity in creating a nearly 20 mile long waterline to provide, for the first time for most, fresh running water and indoor plumbing to homes in Bell”
said group spokeswoman and head female dancer for SkyFest, Emelie Jeffries.
“The success of this project inspired the Cherokee nation as a whole and gave Native people the inspiration to take back control of their lives and life circumstances. It sparked a movement of similar self help projects that continues across the Cherokee nation to this day and led to Wilma Mankiller becoming the first female principle chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1985. The film highlights cultural assets of courage, resiliency and determination of Native people and seeks to reshape public perception of them. It’s an important film for those of all ages to see,”
Mankiller served as Chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1985-1995. During her administration, the tribe constructed several health clinics and re-established its judicial system, tribal marshal service and a tax commission. She met with Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton. She was married to Charlie Soap, her partner in leading the waterline project and the film’s director and a producer, from 1986 until her death from cancer in 2010.
Kimberly Norris Guerrero plays Wilma Mankiller. Moses J. Brings Plenty portrays Charlie Soap. Guerrero, a veteran of many television shows and films, is perhaps best known as a girlfriend of Jerry Seinfeld from the “Seinfeld” episode “The Cigar Store Indian.” Brings Plenty is also a veteran of both mediums, having appeared recently in “Cowboys vs. Aliens.” Deanna Dunagan, the Tony Award-winning actress from the play “August: Osage County” portrays Mankiller’s mother in the film.
“I’d like people to know more about Wilma and the hope and resilience in the Indian community,”
Soap said of the message that he hopes “The Cherokee Word for Water” will convey.
“Wilma thought then that too many people would come out to Cherokee Nation lands and only see poor people and bad conditions, and not that there were people ready to change their situations if just given the opportunity. That’s what she did. I think it’s important to leave a legacy for her. I never realized the importance of a legacy until she was gone and so many people told me how they looked up to her and that she made them believe, “If she can do it, we can too.” It’s a powerful feeling that she’s left with us, and plenty of people tell me that they still feel her presence here today,”