In 1977, Mankiller was a single mother of two living in her car parked by a stream in Oklahoma, struggling to find employment and adapt back into her community after a twenty-year absence. She landed a job as the Cherokee Nation’s economic stimulus coordinator, and later founded the Cherokee Nation’s Community Development Department. Her first project was in Bell, Oklahoma, a small Cherokee community of 200 families with no running water, high unemployment, and a persistent sense of disempowerment. Mankiller’s belief in communities’ ability to work collectively for the common good enabled Bell residents to construct a 16-mile waterline over a 14-month period, resulting in a full-length feature film, "The Cherokee Word for Water." In 1995, Mankiller was elected Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, the first and only woman to ever achieve that office. As Chief, her unsurpassed achievements in job creation, healthcare, and cultural revitalization are legendary.