NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Ronald G. Lewis, DSW
Dr. Ron Lewis, one of North America's foremost authorities in Native American Social Work and legal Indian subjects, is retired from Eastern Michigan University. He was the first American Indian to earn a doctorate in the field and has become known as the "father of American Indian Social Work
Dr. Lewis was a pioneer in his field, being the first American Indian in the United States to earn a doctorate in the field of Social Work from the University of Denver in 1974.
Born on the Cherokee community in Talequah, Oklahoma, Dr. Lewis went on to hold many important positions in academia, as well as on the front lines of his profession. Always a political activist Dr. Lewis was at the Wounded Knee stand -off in 1973 and at Alcatraz.
He was a Psychiatric Social Worker and developed many Mental health programs for American Indians at the Talequah and Claremore Indian Hospitals in Oklahoma and later for the entire state of Oklahoma. As the director of the Indian Liaison Office of the Fitzsimmon Army Medical Hospital in Denver, He worked with returning Viet Nam Indian Veterans. Dr. Lewis trained hospital and medical Personnel about cultural appropriate services for Native people.
The University of Oklahoma, School of Social Work, was his :first academic appointment in 1975, from there Dr Lewis taught social work at many institutions of higher learning, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Arizona State University, Saskatchewan Indian federated college in Canada, where he was the Dean of the Social Work Department. In addition, Dr. Lewis guest lectured at many colleges across the United Sates and Canada.
Well known as a leading expert on Indian Social Problem, Dr. Lewis published extensively on Federal Policy in Indian Country, child abuse and neglect, alcoholism and the American Indian, which was a special report to the U.S. Congress in 1980. His work aided in the creation of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. Landmark Legislation concerning cultural appropriate services for Indian people was an important part of Dr. Lewis' work.. He made important and frequent contributions on Indian issues at every level, from meetings with U.S. presidents, reports to congress, and creating curriculum at Universities.
Dr. Lewis was well liked by his students over the past thirty years of his distinguished career. His influence, especially on young Indian Students, was profound. Many Indian Scholars today were influenced by Dr Lewis. He served as a role model for many Indian teaching in colleges and universities today.
He received his Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1974 from the University of Denver. His sphere of influence includes his own three daughters, two of which are in Academic programs. One is at Arizona State University working on her masters’ degree, and Courtney Lewis is at Chapel Hill in North Carolina working on her Ph.D.
Dr. Lewis first came to Michigan, where he served as Visiting Professor at Michigan State University. He then accepted a position at Eastern Michigan University, where he spent the remaining eleven years. His policy classes on Saturday mornings were always well attended. He enjoyed his students.