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Published December 03, 2013, 09:50 AM

Grand Forks man becomes Spirit Lake chief judge

Joseph Morsette was sworn in Monday as chief judge for the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe near Devils Lake. Morsette, 46, just left his job Friday at UND directing the Native Americans Into Law program, recruiting Indian students to the state’s only law school.

By: Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald

Joseph Morsette was sworn in Monday as chief judge for the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe near Devils Lake.

Morsette, 46, just left his job Friday at UND directing the Native Americans Into Law program, recruiting Indian students to the state’s only law school.

“It’s great to have that transition,” Morsette said after his swearing-in by Spirit Lake’s Chairman Leander “Russ” McDonald. “We have two, maybe three, students at the law school now from Spirit Lake, so this is really going to build a stronger network, having me there and having strong ties to UND. We are making that bridge stronger.”

His work at UND also included being a fellow at the Northern Plains Indian Law Center at the law school.

Morsette is an enrolled member of the Chippewa-Cree Tribe on the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation near Havre, Mont., where he worked for several years as a tribal judge, including a stint as interim chief judge. He’s a graduate of UND’s law school, and a veteran of four years active duty with the Air Force as well as years with the North Dakota National Guard, including a two-year deployment after 9/11 that interrupted his law school studies.

He’s got ties to Spirit Lake, too: His grandfather was an enrolled member of the tribe and Morsette says he has returned there for ceremonies.

He and his family already have settled in at St. Michael, N.D., on the reservation, and he began work Monday as a judge.

“One thing we wanted to be was in the community,” he said. “I think that’s important and I told them that, that I want to be there as your chief judge.”

He had family members from Montana attend his swearing-in.

“It’s kind of a big day,” but one that has him humbled and grateful, he said.

Morsette knows of the controversies on the reservation the past year or two, but sees his new role, along with McDonald being a new chairman, as good steps for the community at Spirit Lake.

“I’m just trying to move forward and with my expertise and common sense and trying to make it work.”

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