Alum Stories - Ada E. Deer

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Ada E. Deer

Ada E. Deer

Ada E. Deer


Encampment: New York, NY, 1956
Grew up in: WI, on the Menominee Indian Reservation
Now lives in: WI

What motivated you to go to the Encampment?
I’ve always been a curious person, full of adventure and eager to see the world. A friend of mine had been to the Encampment and urged me to apply. He said it was a wonderful, exciting experience for him, and I should go!

When you arrived, what was your first impression of the Encampment?
It looked wonderful to me, exciting. Al Black was very welcoming, happy, delighted that 100 of us from across the US were there. He made us feel like we were really important. Only now do I really understand the dedication and determination and love of human beings that the Encampment founders had.

How has the Encampment influenced your life?
My life was changed by meeting Dr. Kenneth Clark and Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt at the Encampment.  I asked Mrs. Roosevelt about the racially oppressive system of apartheid in South Africa and what the United Nations should do. She said, “Change takes time. Violence is not the answer. Education is the way.” Her words have guided me throughout my own work.

Hearing Dr. Kenneth Clark was like a thunderbolt! He and Dr. Mamie Clark devised a famous experiment, showing white dolls and black dolls to black schoolchildren in the segregated South. The children’s overwhelming preference for white dolls demonstrated the damage that racism inflicted on them. These results were used by Thurgood Marshall in Brown v. Board of Education, declaring segregation in public schools “inherently unequal” and unconstitutional. As I realized the impact of how Drs. Clark and Clark used their expertise to help their people by working against racism, I connected the dots and realized that I also could do something of equal importance for American Indians. And I have!

Side note

Ada Deer was elected the first woman chair of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin. She led a grassroots movement which brought about an historic reversal of federal American Indian policy, recognizing the Menominee tribe.

She ran for several elected offices in Wisconsin and served as the first woman Assistant Secretary, Indian Affairs, US Department of Interior.