On Thursday, September 15, 2016, Anne K. McKeig took the oath of office as the newest member of the Minnesota Supreme Court. As most Minnesotans know Associate Justice McKeig is the first American Indian member of the State’s highest court.
Along with many MPR listeners I learned more about McKeig when she was interviewed recently by host Tom Weber. (https://www.mprnews.org/story/2016/08/02/anne-mckeig) Inspired and intrigued by McKeig’s life story I have been thinking about the powerful women who, I must believe, have influenced her life. Since there exist countless McKeig interviews, features, photos, bios and factoids, I decided to focus here on a few women who almost certainly helped to shape her ideas and support her efforts, women who shared their strength with this promising young jurist.
These are not legal scholars, who obviously had a hand; they are instead strong women who served as role models along McTeig’s path to the Court. Though a realize there are countless others – these are the women who might be overlooked in the official narrative.
The first woman who comes to mind is Ruth Myers, known as the Mother of American Indian Education in Minnesota. A member of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (Ojibwe) Ruth broke ground as the first American Indian to serve on the Duluth School Board. She was later appointed by Governor Perpich to serve on the Minnesota State Board of Education, a policy-making board later deep-sixed by the Legislature. Ruth was my role model and friend – to record her story I submitted a short piece for MnOpedia. (http://www.mnopedia.org/person/myers-ruth-1926-2001) I feel certain that, though she died in 2001, Ruth Myers left a path for the young McKeig to follow.
And then there is Cecilia Wattles McKeig, Anne’s mother. A graduate of the College of St. Catherine, Cecilia went on to earn a Masters degree in History from the University of Minnesota. She settled in Federal Dam, Minnesota, (the town of 110_ residents now made famous by McKeig) where she served for thirty years as Director of Indian Education at Northland High school.
Cecelia McKeig is herself a published author; her history of the Bemidji area was published by the Beltrami County History Center in 2013. (Bemidji: A Snapshot of Bemidji 1940-1960: Arcadia Publishing, 2013) Last Spring Ceceilia McKeig was honored with the St. Catherine University Medal of Distinction, in recognition of her work as educator and historian.
Following in her mother’s education footsteps, Anne McKeig graduated from St. Catherine University, a liberal arts college for women founded in 1905 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. The strength and wisdom of early – if undeclared – feminists lives on in the mission, the curriculum and, some would argue, the structures themselves.
It is no coincidence that McKeig’s recent swearing in ceremony took place at O’Shaughnessy Auditorium on the campus of St. Catherine University – or that the students from Northland High School performed a drum circle – or that the White Earth Color Guard posted colors — at that festive, and deeply meaningful, event.
Note: For a touching video of Justice McKeig, in which she expresses thanks for her mentors, including retired Justice Robert A. Blaeser and his wife click here: http://theuptake.org/2016/06/28/live-video-gov-dayton-appoints-a-supreme-court-justice/