New Judge Is at Home Away From Home


By Brett Larson, April 22, 2015

Dave Christensen, the Mille Lacs Band’s new District Court Judge, is a familiar face in the community, although he’s been away for a few years.

Dave was an attorney in the Office of the Solicitor General beginning in 1993. He worked there for four years before becoming the Band’s first-ever legislative counsel.

In that job Dave worked on the revision of the judicial code and the transition to the current Tribal Court system.

After three years as legislative counsel, he transferred to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the Twin Cities, where he worked until he decided to return to the Band as judge.

Dave is a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes in North Dakota and was immersed in his Indian heritage through the influence of his grandfather and other relatives. Dave’s grandfather, a native Hidatsa speaker and direct descendant of Mandan Chief Four Bears, passed along the stories of his people. He even came to live with Dave when he was in law school in New Mexico.

“I learned to dance as a boy, and there were different dances for the different songs, and they all have roots and meanings, like many other things,” Dave says.

While growing up in North Dakota, Dave split time between the reservation and the ranch of his Norwegian grandpa, Ole, who taught him how to ride horses, mend fences, put up hay, and raise crops. He even taught him to thresh wheat using an old belt-driven thresher. From age four, it was his job to gather eggs — and fight off roosters. (Ask him to show you his scar.)

Dave says Mille Lacs feels like home. “I like the Mille Lacs Band. When I was here in the ’90s, it reminded me of my home community in the ’60s. I like being a part of so many good things that the Mille Lacs Band does.”

Dave has always been impressed with the leadership of the Mille Lacs Band and their commitment to their people and culture. “Their hearts are in the right place,” he says.

Dave was born in Scotland when his father was in the Air Force, and as a child he lived in North Dakota and the state of Washington. His mother and stepfather were educators working for the Quinault Nation when Dave graduated from North Beach High School in Washington.

From there he attended college in Washington and North Dakota and eventually earned his law degree from the University of New Mexico.

Dave lives in the Twin Cities area with his wife, Georgette, and three daughters: twin 17-year-olds and an 11-year-old. Dave met Georgette, a White Earth member, when he was working at Mille Lacs.

He said he was drawn to the District Court Judge position because it allows him to practice law within the context of Indian culture. “We’re not here to snap people in line,” Dave says. “We’re here to provide a place to listen, to resolve disputes, and to get people back on track.” The tribal courts are more people-driven than rule-driven, he says, and the statutes he upholds incorporate cultural values.

“My life has been a path of continuous learning, including much about myself,” Dave says. “I hope I am growing. Mille Lacs has been a part of me since I came here, and I am glad I am closer to it now.”