The small Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community has become a big player in Minnesota philanthropy.
When the police chief in the small Minnesota town of Emily needed $1,000 to help train his canine partner, he turned to one of the most generous charitable foundations in the state.
When St. Francis Regional Medical Center in Shakopee needed $500,000 to upgrade its facilities, it turned to one of the most profitable companies in Minnesota for help.
And when the Oglala Sioux on the desolate Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota needed money to build a battered women's shelter, they knew where to call.
In all three instances, the source of the money was the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, which will hand out $21 million this year as part of its growing annual charitable donations program.
The tribe, which owns Mystic Lake Casino, is now a major philanthropic player in Minnesota and possibly the most generous tribe in the country.
"We're just happy to be able to help when we can," said Glynn A. Crooks, the tribe's vice chairman. "We can't do everything, but we do help."
Since 2003 the tribe has tripled its giving from $7 million to more than $21 million this year. As a result, the Minnesota Council on Foundations has started listing the Shakopee tribe among the top 25 grantmakers in the state.
"Tribal philanthropy is growing," said Bill King, executive director of the Council on Foundations. "They have a long cultural history of giving."
King said the sovereign status of the Shakopee makes it difficult to classify the tribe's charitable giving. But -- depending on the classification used -- the tribe can be seen as either one of the top five foundations or one of the top 10 corporate givers in Minnesota.
This puts the tribe on par with 3M and surpasses the charitable giving of U.S. Bancorp, Xcel Energy, St. Paul Travelers, Wells Fargo, the Minnesota Twins, the Minnesota Vikings, the Lutheran Community Foundation and the Catholic Community Foundation in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Next month the tribe, whose gambling operation is one of the nation's most profitable Indian-owned casinos, will cross a major milestone when its total giving surpasses $100 million.
"The other tribes [in Minnesota] do what they can, but Shakopee is by far out in front," said John McCarthy, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association. "I suspect that the Shakopee would be the Number 1 philanthropic [Indian] group in the country on a consistent basis."
McCarthy estimates the three wealthiest tribes --Shakopee, the Prairie Island Mdewakanton Dakota Tribe and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe -- donate $35 million to $40 million a year, with the Shakopee more than half of that total.
"I'm sure a lot of people will be surprised at that," said Kathy Davis Graves, co-author of the book "Indians in Minnesota."I don't think many people have any idea of how much money they have given."
Reversal of fortunes
A generation ago, in the 1970s, the 300 members of the Shakopee tribe, by their own accounts, lived in substandard housing on dirt roads and survived on minimum-wage jobs and government subsidies.
"I remember going out there, and the roads were just terrible, you couldn't get out there in the winter," McCarthy said. "There was a time in the '70s when they didn't have enough money to pay someone to take care of their septic system."
The tribe's fortunes changed 15 years ago with the opening of the Little Six Bingo Palace.
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