Newly appointed Minnesota Supreme Court Judge, Anne McKeig, may be getting attention for her new role, but it’s her father, formerly a 35-year member of Local 49, who helped shape Anne to who she is today. Monte McKeig, of Federal Dam, Minn., was a heavy equipment operator for Local 49 for 35 years. He was a proud union member and never worked a non-union job a day in his life.
Anne’s mother, Cecelia McKeig recalls when Monte’s interest was sparked to be become a union member. In our hometown of Federal Dam, and at a young age he stepped up to help our community. Cecelia explains, “When Monte was only 23, the dam burst. For six weeks the town had no access to the main road, he was one of the workers that helped fix the dam.” It was on this project that Monte first realized joining a union would be a good thing to do.
He joined the Operating Engineers Local 49 in 1960, and continued to have a career full of interesting projects. Anne remembers some of her father’s most important projects such as Highway 2 between Cass Lake and Bena, and the Onigum Marina near Walker, Minn. Monte worked his way up to be a foreman overseeing projects like the sewer at Nett Lake Reservation.
Monte didn’t just support his fellow 49ers; he supported labor as a whole, no matter what. Anne shared an early childhood memory of her father’s passion about unions. When we were really little we went to a small five and dime store in Bemidji and encountered a picket line. We so badly wanted to get candy, but dad said, “No. You never cross the picket line.” He was very proud. Cecelia shares a similar story, “I worked for the Remer-Longville school district for the Indian Education program, who were at the time, threatening to go on strike,” Cecelia said. “He (Monte) was very adamant, and told me I could never cross the picket line.”
For Monte, being a part of Local 49 was being a part of something bigger than himself. Anne remembers, “He felt like it represented the blue collar working man, and that without it they, particularly Indian people, would be taken advantage of.” It was union brotherhood that banned together to help the McKeig family in one of their times of need when their house burnt down during Christmas time in 1973 and lost everything. Anne recalls, “…All of the people we worked with came to help, even just to donate food. Some of them helped rebuild our home.”
In 1986, Monte received his continuous 25-year member award from Local 49. Cecelia said she still remembers the day they traveled from Federal Dam to the Twin Cities for the ceremony. “Monte wasn’t a man that normally dressed up, but when he got his certificate at the ceremony he was so proud and pleased, he knew it was special,” she said. “We never ever left our town so to go to St. Paul was a really rare thing.” “It was a big evening for him though, I remember walking in and he knew this guy and that guy, it was special for him to see all of them,” Cecelia added.
On June 28, 2016, Governor Mark Dayton appointed Judge Anne McKeig to the Minnesota Supreme Court. This occasion also marked her as the first American Indian on the Minnesota Supreme Court. “I was at the County Attorney’s Office on the Union Board for a while, and I knew that I made my dad proud,” she said. “The value of physical labor is just as important as a strong education. My dad always said you’re worth nothing if you can’t go out and get your hands dirty,” Anne added.
Even as a judge, Anne said, no job is too small. She said, “You don’t just stick to your job title and that’s it – it’s a team concept.” Anne has carried her father’s work ethic and life lessons with her throughout her entire career. Monte McKeig passed away December 28, 1994, but is remembered by his family as a hard-working, caring and compassionate man who had a love for hunting and fishing. “He was just a strong person, physically and mentally,” Cecelia said. “When he passed away and the community came together I heard so many stories about him helping other people – stories that I didn’t even know about.” Anne echoed her mother’s thoughts and said, “he would be smiling down” for sharing his story.
“He was such a great guy, I’m so proud of my dad,” Anne said. “And he was very union proud.”