Deer was born in Keshena, WI. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in social work and received her master's degree from Columbia University in 1961.
She has been a lecturer in the American Indian Studies program and the School of Social Work since 1977, taking a four-year leave when she served with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Deer led a grassroots movement to stop the Menominee Enterprise from selling tribal land holdings when they were unable to pay property taxes. With the land sale abated, the Menominee Restoration Act was signed by President Nixon on Dec. 22, 1972, reinstating the Menominee Nation as a federally recognized tribe.
In 1993, she was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs, becoming the first American Indian woman to head the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
While in Washington, Deer helped set federal policy for the more than 550 recognized tribes across the country. In 1992, she became the first American Indian woman in Wisconsin to run for Congress, winning the Democratic primary without political action committee funding. She also ran for Wisconsin secretary of state in 1982 and 1978, and is the first woman to chair the Menominee Nation in Wisconsin, a position she held from 1974-76.
She was named director of the American Indian Studies program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2000.
Her visit is supported by the Cash family through the Joseph H. Cash Memorial Fund and the Department of American Indian Studies at USD. For more information, contact the department at 605-677-5209 or email Meg Quintal, mquintal@ usd.edu.