Courtesy Anne McKeig’s Office
: Judge Anne McKeig stands with Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton during the announcement June 28 that she will be the newest, and first Native, Minnesota Supreme Court justice.

Bad Science Made Her Do It; That Is Become a Supreme Court Justice

Konnie LeMay

Anne McKeig grew up in the tiny town of Federal Dam, Minnesota, (population around 100) bordering the Leech Lake Ojibwe Reservation.

A descendant of the White Earth Ojibwe, she set her career path early (once dentistry was out), eventually receiving a bachelor’s degree from the College of St. Catherine in 1989 and graduating from Hamline University School of Law in 1992.

After law school, she joined the Hennepin County Attorney’s office in Minneapolis as an assistant attorney in the Child Protection Division, specializing in the Indian Child Welfare Act. During her time there, she also became a part-time staff attorney for the American Prosecutors Research Institute. She also joined the American Indian Bar Association.

In 2008, she was appointed to a judgeship and was elected after that. Since 2013, she has been the Family Court Presiding Judge in Minnesota’s Fourth Judicial District. On June 28 this year, she was appointed to become a state Supreme Court Justice.

RELATED: Historic: Native Woman Appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court

The fact that McKeig’s first bench appointment was by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and her latest appointment to the Minnesota Supreme Court came from Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton shows an impressive span of support between the political party lines and a testament to confidence in her.

When she takes her new seat on the bench after Associate Justice Christopher Dietzen retires at the end of August, the Minnesota Supreme Court will have its second-ever majority female justices and first Native justice presiding.

Judge McKeig took time last week to answer a few questions from Indian Country Today about her path and about her thoughts on court diversity.

What drew you to law as a career? Was there anything about growing up in Federal Dam that influenced you in this direction (or what did you plan to grow up to be back then)?

I am not really sure. When I was in 9th grade, we had to do a project regarding our career choice. I chose to be a dentist and researched the job requirements. I then realized being a dentist required a lot of science study – and I was never very good at science. So I knew I needed to choose another path.

Since I enjoyed helping people – and was never afraid of a good argument – I decided I would be a lawyer. I can see now that I was influenced by both my parents, who were always helping someone in one way or another. My dad was a mechanic and never made much money because he would help anyone who needed it. He would say, “Pay me later,” or he would take something in trade. My mother, who was the director of Indian Education at Remer (Minnesota) High School for 30-plus years, was always helping a child in some way. Whether it was listening, giving a ride, a hug, lunch money (that we did not have); she would always do anything she could to help.

You have mentioned as an inspiration Judge Robert Blaeser, the first and longest-serving Native judge appointed in Minnesota and who is also from White Earth. You did not know him when he was appointed as a district court judge, but have you gotten to know him since? How do you feel knowing that you, too, as a Native woman, will be an inspiration now for girls and Native youth?

I was so lucky to have met Judge Blaeser. After his swearing-in, he eventually made his way to the juvenile court where he served not only as a judge but eventually as the presiding judge. He took an interest in mentoring me as a young Native lawyer in the Hennepin County Attorney’s office. He was truly invested in my future, and I so appreciated it.

I was not always easy to mentor as I was young, passionate and stubborn, and I am sure I thought I knew more than I did. He was patient but firm and hung in there with me throughout my career. We became close friends over time, and his support for me has never wavered. He was never afraid to tell me the truth, direct and to the point. When I was wrong, he told me. He really helped mold me into the professional I am today, and I am forever grateful.

As far as me being an inspiration, it is my hope and dream that someone will see in me what I saw in Judge Blaeser, and I intend to work hard to pay forward what he has done for me.


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