Native American leader and trailblazer Ada Deer dies at 88
Category: News & PoliticsVia: 1stwarrior • one month ago • 3 comments
Ada Deer, the first woman to lead the Bureau of Indian Affairs, is being remembered as a decades-long champion of Native American rights in Wisconsin and the nation. Deer died Tuesday night at age 88.
Deer’s life in Wisconsin was marked by several firsts, including becoming the first Native American woman to run for Congress in Wisconsin.
Ben Wikler, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and Deer’s godchild, said in a tweet last week Deer was receiving hospice care. On Tuesday, Wikler said Deer died in her sleep.
“Eight days ago, she celebrated her 88th birthday, surrounded by friends and family,” Wikler said. “Ada carried with her our love and gratitude. Her extraordinary legacy lives on.”
“I speak up. I speak out,” Deer said in 2018. “It’s not like I plotted and planned. I just had this general goal. I want to do and I want to be and I want to help. And I’ve been able to do it.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers described Deer as “one of a kind.”
“We will remember her as a trailblazer, a changemaker, and a champion for Indigenous communities,” Evers said in a tweet. “But above all, Kathy and I will always remember Ada for her kindness and compassion. We miss Ada already. We will carry her spirit with us always.”
When she was a college student in the ’50s, many of her fellow female students pursued degrees to help support their families, Deer said in 2018 . Deer, however, decided early she didn’t want children or a husband.
“It’s way too much work,” she said in a story that ran as part of a series honoring UW System women. “I have a strong personality, and know I couldn’t put up with 99.4 percent of men and they couldn’t put up with me.”
Deer became the first Menominee citizen to graduate from UW-Madison, receiving a bachelor’s degree in social work in 1957. Four years later, she became the first Native American to receive a master’s in social work from Columbia University.
“She was an inspiration, mentor and role model to so many, “ UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin said in a news release. “Ada embodied the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea and her life journey powerfully shows the incredible positive impact a single person can have on the world.”
After spending time as a social worker in New York and Minneapolis, as well as working with the Peace Corps in Puerto Rico, Deer played a critical role in restoring federal recognition for her tribe through the Determination of Right and Unity for Menominee Shareholders, or DRUMS, in the early 1970s. The Menominee Tribe was placed under the control of a corporation in 1961, but Deer’s efforts led President Richard Nixon in 1973 to restore the tribe’s rights and repeal termination policies.
After federal recognition to the Menominee tribe was restored in 1973, Deer became the first woman to chair the tribe. She held the position from 1974 to 1976.
Deer returned to UW-Madison in 1977 as a lecturer in the American Indian Studies program — which she would later direct from 2000 to 2007 — and School of Social Work, where she taught until 1993, when she was appointed head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, becoming the first woman to hold the position.
In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Deer head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, where she served for four years and helped strengthen federal protections and rights for hundreds of tribes.
“As a tireless advocate for the Menominee community and Indigenous rights, Ada was a true leader and an inspiration to many.”
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