2019 National Native American Hall of Fame Inductee
This stirring memoir is the story of Ada Deer, the first woman to serve as head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Deer begins, “I was born a Menominee Indian. That is who I was born and how I have lived.” She proceeds to narrate the first eighty-three years of her life, which are characterized by her tireless campaigns to reverse the forced termination of the Menominee tribe and to ensure sovereignty and self-determination for all tribes.
Deer grew up in poverty on the Menominee Reservation in Wisconsin, but with the encouragement of her mother and teachers, she earned degrees in social work from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Columbia University. Armed with a first-rate education, an iron will, and a commitment to justice, she went from being a social worker in Minneapolis to leading the struggle for the restoration of the Menominees’ tribal status and trust lands.
Having accomplished that goal, she moved on to teach American Indian Studies at UW–Madison, to hold a fellowship at Harvard, to work for the Native American Rights Fund, to run unsuccessfully for Congress, and to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs in the Clinton administration.
Now in her eighties, Deer remains as committed as ever to human rights, especially the rights of American Indians. A deeply personal story, written with humor and honesty, this book is a testimony to the ability of one individual to change the course of history through hard work, perseverance, and an unwavering commitment to social justice.
“This well-written autobiography of a leader in the fight for Native American rights offers valuable insights into Native experiences in the latter half of the twentieth century and Ada Deer’s perceptive personal insights. A welcome addition to the growing library of Native American biographies—highly recommended.”—R. David Edmunds, coauthor of The People: A History of Native America
“Making a Difference is a powerful story of activism. Ada Deer contributed her Indigenous worldview and Menominee cultural identity to help shape Indian affairs of the twenty-first century. Her story is worth sharing and her legacy should be preserved.”—LaDonna Harris, President and Founder, Americans for Indian Opportunity
“For anyone interested in American Indian history, Ada Deer’s autobiography is a must-read. A scholar and an activist for the past half century, Ada has been at the core of Indian issues on both the local and national levels. The captivating story of her challenges and accomplishments is carefully told in Making a Difference.”—Herman J. Viola, Curator Emeritus, Smithsonian Institution
“This lively account of Ada Deer’s astonishing life illuminates her lifelong commitment to justice for American Indian people. Her famous work on behalf of the Menominees in their epic struggle to restore their sovereignty and her leadership of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the tumultuous mid-1990s are only part of the story. This book plots the full arc of her remarkable life.”—Jean O’Brien, coeditor of Why You Can’t Teach U.S. History without Indians
“Ada Deer’s vivid personality, dogged determination to fight the ravages of termination not only for the Menominees but for all of Native America, and decades-long dedication to social justice add up to a life well lived—and a story that truly inspires.”—Sherry L. Smith, author of Hippies, Indians, and the Fight for Red Power
“This book offers the long overdue perspective of a member of the Menominee Nation on the termination and restoration of the Menominees to their rightful status as a federally recognized tribe. It is a story that is not only important because of Ada Deer’s identity as a Native American who experienced it, but also because it demonstrates how a person—woman or man, Indian or non-Indian—born and raised under challenging circumstances can achieve great things in life.”—Nicholas C. Peroff, author of Menominee Drums: Tribal Termination and Restoration, 1954–1974