Heading south on Prior Lake’s Canterbury Road, there’s a moment when the words “Mystic Lake” suddenly appear in red neon lights.

By 10 a.m., the parking lots at both Mystic Lake Casino Hotel and the nearby Little Six Casino are already crowded.

The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community is perhaps best known for its casinos and the wealth they’ve produced. But just behind the Little Six, the unassuming Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Center is the nucleus for a wide range of work that’s made the reservation something akin to a self-sustaining city, a sovereign nation that is often misunderstood.

There’s a network of clinics for tribal members, employees and people from other local tribes, and an internal health insurance policy to go with it. There are two water treatment plants, plus a facility for bottling purified well water. There’s a vast stretch of blacktop dedicated to composting, and a facility that burns 174,000 tons of biomass annually to produce energy and heat.

What’s produced on reservation lands often ends up elsewhere. Goods, from energy to compost to organic vegetables, are sold. And partnerships across the state provide public safety and medical assistance to communities that need it.

The public safety department often responds to crises with administrative support, using a mobile command post equipped with TVs, whiteboards and mapping equipment.

Director Greg Hayes takes pride in the department’s ability to solve problems quickly.

“It’s getting out and sharing business cards before disasters happen,” he said.

Many of the tribe’s major initiatives, including Mystic Clinic and the fire station, have emerged in the past 15 years. Tribal Administrator Bill Rudnicki said change is ongoing, but credits some of it to the pushback the tribe has experienced as it’s put land into trust — a federal designation that allows it to keep the land forever, tax-free.

When people in nearby communities argued that the tribe was getting services without paying taxes, tribal members decided, quite simply, to provide their own.