Valerie Red-Horse Mohl, an investment banker and director of the film “Mankiller,” and legal scholar Honor Keeler ’05, visiting assistant professor of the practice in the Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative and citizen of the Cherokee Nation, discussed the legacy of Wilma Mankiller, the film’s subject, at a Thursday panel at Pembroke Hall.
The panel, moderated by Coordinating Curator for Native American and Indigenous Collections at the Brown University and John Carter Brown libraries Kimberly Toney, followed a Wednesday screening of “Mankiller,” which celebrates the legacy of the first woman who served as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1985 to 1995. It was hosted by the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women, the John Hay Library and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative.
As women of Cherokee descent, Red-Horse Mohl and Keeler discussed their relationship to Mankiller and how her legacy has shaped their worldviews.
“Her message is so timeless,” Red-Horse Mohl said, reflecting on how Mankiller’s activism and leadership transcended political identity, ethnicity and gender.
Mankiller, who passed away in 2010, “worked with all people as human beings,” Red-Horse Mohl said.
Red-Horse Mohl added that she felt the film came at a time it was needed: Political polarization and division were ubiquitous during the time of the film’s creation, she said, referring to the 2016 presidential election.
Following Mankiller’s philosophy on the importance of mentorship, Red-Horse Mohl — the first Native American to start an investment bank on Wall Street — said she works to guide people who lack “generations of connection to Wall Street when coming from families of color,” as well as “friends and family that can support (them) through entrepreneurship.”
Toney said she hoped the event helped audience members navigate and reimagine workspaces and institutions that have been traditionally dominated by patriarchal norms and whiteness, as its panelists could share “how they navigate those spaces … very successfully.”
Keeler also spoke to the historically matriarchal norms in historical Indigenous societies. “Women’s knowledge is indigenous to these lands,” she said. “And in the takeover of native land, there’s a decrease in women’s rights.”
Marie Bordelon ’24 and Isabelle Meza ’25, both Critical Native American and Indigenous Studies concentrators, attended the event as students of Keeler’s course NAIS 1100: “Federal Indian Law: Native Nations, Resistance and Indigenous Rights.”
After the panel, Meza said that she reflected on the relationship between universities and Indigenous communities.
“Even though the University is a colonial-like structure, we still go here and use that to better our communities,” she said.
Bordelon praised the panel for its discussion of matriarchal Indigenous societies.
“Matriarchal societies were a lot more common among Indigenous … communities until settler colonialism,” she said. “Seeing the film and seeing that revival of matriarchy or matriarchal ideas … felt like reliving that sort of history.”
Grace Hu is a Senior Staff Writer covering graduate student life. She is a freshman from Massachusetts studying English and Neuroscience.