Sokaogon Chippewa Community News
Ada Deer Walks On
Photograph by Norman Lenburg, 1978, S13856
Ada Deer, a prominent Native American leader in Wisconsin and nationwide, died last Tuesday night at age 88.
Deer was a trailblazer in every sense of the word, living a life filled with firsts and paving the way for other Native leaders.
“Ada was one-of-a-kind,” Gov. Tony Evers said on social media. “We will remember her as a trailblazer, a changemaker, and a champion for Indigenous communities. But above all, (my wife) Kathy and I will always remember Ada for her kindness and compassion.”
Deer was the first woman to head the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the first woman to serve as chairperson of the Menominee Nation and the first Native American woman to run for Congress in Wisconsin.
Deer was instrumental in restoring federal recognition for her tribe, and also fought for the sovereignty of all Indigenous nations.
“I speak up. I speak out,” she 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. People think you’re born this way, but you create your way as you go along. No. Your life evolves.”
Born in Keshena, Wisconsin, in 1935, Deer grew up on a Menominee Indian Reservation. She lived in a log cabin near the Wolf River where there was no running water or electricity.
In 1957, she became the first Menominee citizen to graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, earning a bachelor’s degree in social work.
She went on to become the first Native American to earn a master’s degree from Columbia University