Friends and family of Ada Deer reminisce on her impactful life at memorial service
MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - One week after long-time advocate for Native American rights Ada Deer passed away, friends and family held a celebration of life to honor the beloved activist.
Hundreds filled the halls of Grace Episcopal Church Thursday to honor Deer, a trailblazer who died last week at age 88.
Among many accomplishments, Deer was the first member of the Menominee Tribe to graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, first Native American to receive a master’s in social work from Columbia University, and the first woman to chair the Menominee Tribe in Wisconsin.
“The cause of her life was to lift up the sovereignty and the rights and the livelihoods of indigenous peoples and of all people on this earth,” Deer’s Godson Ben Wikler said Thursday. “That impatience and that humanity, that directness and that warmth, that refusal to accept that what is wrong in the world cannot be fixed. That is Ada’s gift to all of us.”
Wikler said he was stunned to learn just how many people his Godmother touched in her lifetime.
“How many other families she was part of how many people called her aunt, how many people felt she was a part of the fabric of their lives. How she showed up, how she remembered. How she asked questions of each of us and how she challenged us to be better versions of ourselves,” he said.
Chairwoman of Menominee Nation Gena Kakkak said Deer’s efforts in opposing the federal government’s termination policies in the 1950s is one of her most notable achievements and set the stage for future leaders.
“Her unwavering determination and work on behalf of the Menominee Tribe led to the passage of the Menominee Restoration Act of 1973,” Kakkak said. “A landmark piece of legislation that marked the return of the Menominee reservation’s federally recognized status. Ada’s hard work and determination not only impacted Menominee, but all tribal nations.”
The funeral was held at Grace Episcopal Church in Madison, where loved ones say Deer spent a lot of time in recent years. Political leaders including Governor Tony Evers, Attorney General Josh Kaul and Secretary of State Sarah Godlewski were in attendance.
Earlier this month, Gov. Tony Evers proclaimed Aug. 7, Deer’s 88th birthday, as Ada Deer Day in Wisconsin.
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