In Honor of Ada Deer
September 28, 2023
I send this message to honor the memory of alumna Ada Deer, ‘61MS, former Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, who passed away in August. An active community leader, dedicated educator, and savvy political envoy, Secretary Deer was a staunch advocate for improving the lives of others. It is with great pride that we celebrate her many accomplishments.
Born on the Menominee reservation in Keshena, Wisconsin, Ada Deer was the first Native American to earn a master’s degree from CSSW. Upon graduating, she returned to the Midwest to be closer to the Menominee Nation. Finding few local services in place for Native Americans living in urban settings, she worked to advocate on their behalf with federal authorities. Through grassroots organizing, she helped to end the Termination Era and restore her tribe’s rights that had been taken away from them in 1954. As a result of this success, she became the first woman to chair the Menominee Tribe in Wisconsin. In 1993, Ada Deer was appointed by President Clinton as Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, becoming the first woman to lead the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. She served in this role for four years, during which time she helped set federal policy for more than 555 American Indian tribes. She was chair for the Native American Rights Fund and organized leadership workshops for American Indian women. During the School’s centennial in 1998, Secretary Deer was honored with induction into CSSW’s Hall of Fame. In 2000, she was a National Women’s History month honoree, and in 2010, she was recognized as a Social Work Pioneer by NASW. In 2019, Secretary Deer was inducted into the National Native American Hall of Fame.
In 2020, we invited Secretary Deer to be our commencement speaker. Sadly, the pandemic occurred and all in-person plans were put on pause. We were, however, grateful to interview and publish an article on Secretary Deer and her path to politics. You can read the article here. This year, August 7 was proclaimed Ada Deer Day by Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers in honor of her 88th birthday.
We are proud to name Secretary Deer an alumna of the School. She forever changed the lives of many and her contributions to a better society will not be forgotten.