Sokaogon Chippewa Community News

Ada Deer’s 17 Years of Dedication to the Sokaogon Chippewa Community

By Tina L. Van Zile

Back in the Spring of 2006, the Tribe made an $8 million payment to BHP Billiton as our half payment for the Crandon Mine Purchase. Shortly after, BHP Billiton made the decision to donate the $8 million back to the Tribe, but stated that it would go into a trust fund for the Tribe. Our Tribal Council had to meet with a BHP Billiton representative and their attorneys in Madison to set up this trust fund agreement.

BHP Billiton wanted the funds to go for programs that were of the greatest need for the Tribe, such as housing, education, culture, environmental, economic development, etc. We asked about using the funds for land purchasing and BHP Billiton said “NO”. We stated reasons why it should be allowed but they just wouldn’t budge. So Glenn Reynolds, former Sokaogon Attorney, asked the Tribal Council if he could invite Ada Deer to our negotiation table. Of course we said yes.

We went back for more meetings and the issue of land purchase came up again. BHP Billiton once again said “NO” but this time Ada Deer was at the table and she simply said “WHY NOT?” and began with her history, facts and arguments as to why land purchase should be allowed. Ada would not take “NO” for an answer and eventually BHP Billiton added that category to the trust fund agreement.

Ada was our strong, powerful Native ally. She agreed to help us because that is what she loved to do – help her Native people across Indian Country! This is when my friendship with Ada Deer began. In 2006, we asked her if she would serve as one of the five initial board members for the trust fund and she said “YES!” She has served as a board member for the past 17 years.

During this time, she became my mentor. We would have long conversations about things I could do to help my community. She enjoyed being a part of the trust fund because the fund granted matching funds for projects such as our health clinic, the youth center, the day care, the cultural building, the food distribution building, the Dinesen House restoration, land purchases, college scholarships, and more.

Ada didn’t have a cell phone or email, so I would have to contact her on her home phone, and we would end up talking for a couple hours. She would always ask me how the Tribe was doing, were things running fine, who was on the Tribal Council these days, and lastly, she would ask, “Tina, are you taking care of yourself? Because you have to find time for you.”

Right now it all seems so surreal. I feel like she is still just a phone call away. But on Thursday, August 24th, I will head to Madison for her funeral services and hopefully offer a few words on behalf of our community. I will treasure our long talks, my dear friend, and gigawaabamin minawaa!