NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Ada Deer was born on the Menominee Indian Reservation, Wisconsin, in 1935. Her mother was a nurse and came from a well-to-do family in Philadelphia. As a young woman, curious about Indians, she went to a South Dakota reservation, and later moved to Wisconsin where she met and married. Her mother was a fierce advocate for Indian rights and justice.
Her daughter, Ada Deer, followed in her footsteps becoming nationally recognized as an advocate and organizer on behalf of American Indians. She attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the Columbia University School of Social Work.
She became the first woman to be appointed Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, US Department of the Interior, the first Native American woman to run for Congress in Wisconsin, the first native American to lobby Congress successfully to restore tribal rights, and the first Chairwoman of her tribe.
Over the years she has worked as a group worker, neighborhood house director, community coordinator for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Peace Corps lecturer, school social worker, and lecturer for the School of Social Work American Indian Studies Program, University of Wisconsin.
She has served on many local, state, and national committees, boards, and commissions, and has been the recipient of awards, including the Indian Council, Indian Resources Institute, Girl Scouts, National Women's History, National Women's Studies, Harvard University, Delta Gamma Foundation, and the John Jay Foundation.