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The Carletonian

Native American advocate Deer promotes activism

< loudmouth,” said Ada E. Deer to a chorus of laughter at the Convocation on Friday, November 2 at the Skinner Memorial Chapel. But more than just passionate talking, Deer likes action, and lots of it. According to an introduction by Jennifer Muskrat ’10, Deer is “turning the world upside down and shaking it up.” Deer has an impressive inventory of empowering “firsts” to claim: she was first member of the Menominee tribe to receive an undergraduate degree from University of Wisconsin-Madison, first Native American to receive a master’s degree from Columbia University, and, most importantly, the first woman to head the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Deer’s address sought to empower her audience with a similar drive towards action, through her lecture titled “Advocacy, Activism and Action: YOUR Agenda for Tomorrow.”

Deer began her talk by advising students to get involved with an issue they care about, and act on it. She called on students to “discover what outrages you.” She said, “If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention.”

The address then began to tell the story of Deer’s activism. A long-time bookworm, Deer won a scholarship by the Menominee tribe to attend the University of Wisconsin. “I told myself, someday I would repay the tribe,” Deer recalled. And so began her quest for justice. “I was always looking to help people move ahead on their agendas or other people’s agendas,” she said.

She then explained the agenda that had immersed her: federal reinstatement of the Menominee lands after tribal lands had “terminated,” a process she described as devastating: “lands became subject to taxes, hospitals closed…” But Deer was not content to be passive to the situation. “I got mad. I decided I was going to do something about it.”

Indeed, the Menominee lands were reinstated, after Deer dropped out of law school to lobby Congress about the issue. “That’s from me getting angry and deciding to do something about it,” she said. “Many others also got angry. But you have to go out and do something.”

“Compassion, conviction and courage,” Deer said. These were the main ingredients to her activism, and activist success. Courage, she said, because “we broke tradition.” But, she added, “Guess what? We survived.” She said having a vision was another key component: “You need to know what you want.” For example, Deer knew deeply that she wanted a “fully sovereign [Menominee] tribe.” Equipped with this powerful vision, Deer began to reach out to her tribe and community. “I took all these people and appointed them to positions,” she said proudly, recounting the housewives she plucked from kitchen tables and placed as committee chairs. With this united action, change became possible and realized.

Deer continued to affirm that “one person can make a difference.” She said, “You don’t need to be in awe of all these luminaries.” Furthermore, she instilled confidence in the members of the audience: “All of you have power. You have personal power.”

On a more personal note about herself, Deer explained her role a groundbreaking American Indian woman. “I constantly strive to present a positive image for American Indians, for women, for social workers…” she said.

Near the end of her address, Deer looked closely at the audience. She left the audience with some thought provoking questions. “Ask yourself: what is your responsibility? Do you accept it?”

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