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Minnesota's first Native American judge on the Supreme Court

Photo: Office of Gov. Mark Dayton & Lt. Gov. Tina Smith via Wikimedia

While sometimes it seems like we have surpassed many of the "firsts" in society, last week there was a new — and significant — first. Anne McKeig, a Native American, took her spot on the Minnesota Supreme Court. This is significant progress for the face of justice in Minnesota and will stand long into the future. Gov. Mark Dayton announced he was naming McKeig to the state Supreme Court back in June. Last week she went through her "robing" ceremony and stepped into her new role as a member of the now majority-female Minnesota Supreme Court.

Anne McKeig is affiliated with the White Earth Band of Ojibwe. In June she tearfully accepted her nomination and credited Justice Robert A. Blaeser, the first, and longest serving, Native American district court judge who helped inspire her to achieve this dream. Blaeser retired in 2012 after serving 17 years on the bench.

Prior to her appointment to the Supreme Court, McKeig also served as a district court judge in the Fourth Judicial District. Previously, she worked as a Hennepin County assistant attorney specializing in Indian child welfare cases.

McKeig's achievement as a female also represents glass ceilings yet to be shattered. Minnesota has made significant progress in recent years, thanks in part to Gov. Dayton's thoughtful leadership and purposeful choices in his staff, commissioners and his nominations to local and state judicial benches. The Legislature has passed laws with incentives to hire more women, minorities or veterans. It's important for other businesses to see the state leading by example. There is still much work to do, particularly in corporate America where currently women hold just 4.4 percent of Fortune 500 CEO roles.

Seeing leaders that look like us and talk like us should never be underestimated. On a more local level, the same can be said of our teachers. Having a more diverse number of teachers in our public schools will help inspire children within communities of color where Minnesota continues to have nation-leading disparities in equity and academic achievement. Some in the Legislature understand this and are actively working to promote change.

McKeig's nomination to serve on the Minnesota Supreme Court is no small feat. And while much progress has been made, the significance of her achievement reminds us all there is still work left to do. Until our businesses and governments are run by a cross-section of society that more closely matches the demographics of this country, we should not rest. Let's applaud small and big victories alike and continue to move the arm of progress forward.

Roger Reinert

Roger Reinert is a Duluth resident.