In Memoriam: Deanna Rivers Chisholm

Deanna Rivers Chisholm


On April 4th, 2016, Deanna Rivers Chisholm walked on after a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer.  She was an MSU Alum and member of the Munsee-Delaware First Nation of Ontario.  Deanna began her work with the Native American Institute (NAI) as a partner from the North American Indian Association of Detroit (NAIA), which her great-grandmother, Belva Waddilove, helped to co-found.  Along with the Director of NAIA, Brian Moore, Deanna worked with NAI and other MSU units over the course of 2015 to help in the development of the Detroit American Indian Needs Assessment Survey.  In the fall of 2015, Deanna joined the staff of NAI as an academic specialist and continued her work with the Detroit urban American Indian community through the needs assessment, but also through work related to food, health, financial education, elder care services, and liaising with the other Detroit urban American Indian organizations. 

As part of the office, Deanna was an amazing person to be able to work with.  She was open, friendly, and willing to help anyone who walked in the door of the Institute and she always had a smile and energy to spare for everyone.  In her work, her philosophy was always on what can we in the Institute and at MSU do to better serve the American Indian community, whether it be in the urban Detroit community which she was devoted to, or the broader American Indian community of Michigan. 

When Deanna began her work with us at NAI in the fall of 2015, it was to complete a circle of career achievements and goals.  Few people know the full path of Deanna’s career that led to our door in the fall of 2015, but part of that journey included earning two post-graduate degrees at Michigan State University, an M.A. in Journalism and a Ph.D. in Resource Development – Urban Studies.  In addition, she had degrees in English (B.S. Western Michigan University) and Education (M.A. University of Michigan).  In conversations with Deanna after she began here, she referred to working at NAI as being her “Dream Job”, which allowed her to bring this wealth of education and experience to fruition. She was a strong believer in the power and ability of Michigan State University as a resource for addressing ongoing issues and helping to jointly work with American Indian communities towards long-term and sustainable outcomes and solutions.  Every day, she looked forward to the new projects, relationships, and friendships that life at NAI and living in the East Lansing area provided. 

She will be missed by all of us at NAI as a colleague, a friend, an inspiration, and a spirit that was a light to everyone who had the opportunity to meet and be touched by her presence. 

On behalf of the Institute, may you rest in peace and walk in joy, Deanna.

For and from all of our relations,

John Norder (director), Mary Calcatera (tribal liaison and outreach specialist), Christie Poitra (education and outreach specialist), Judy Pierzynowski (student research assistant)