The Mdewakanton Sioux give aid to poor tribes - as well as to the U.
The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community's charitable giving has soared to nearly $60 million over the past two years, ranking it among the biggest sources of philanthropy in the state.
The tribe has grown wealthy from its Mystic Lake casino and other operations, and its giving is several times higher than it was just a few years ago. Its bump in giving since 2007 could end up ranking it among the top 10 grant makers in the state for 2008, alongside the likes of Cargill and Medtronic, newly released figures show.
Many of the biggest checks are going to impoverished tribes in the Dakotas. But the biggest of all -- $12 million last year -- stayed within the state to help the University of Minnesota's new stadium and scholarship programs.
"They are one of the, if not the, most generous tribes in the nation," Ernie Stephens, chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association, said Wednesday from Denver. "Not just to surrounding communities but to Indian people in general."
People close to the tribe say it's no surprise that out-of-state tribes are getting much of the largesse, along with those closer to home.
"They've been tremendously generous to Prior Lake when we've had needs, such as lights for our parks," said Jack Haugen, the mayor of the suburb in which much of the tribe's land is located. "But with some of the tribes they are helping, we're talking about the basics of life."
Millions have also been directed to native peoples within Minnesota, including two major grants that have helped to reestablish, for the Red Lake band of Chippewa, a fisheries operation that was central to the local economy until overfishing wiped out the supply, and the plant had to close.
"It was dire around here," said Pat Brown, fisheries biologist. "We sat around for about two years scratching our heads, wondering how we were going to get the thing going again, once the fish were back."
The jump in giving has coincided with a burst in building activity on the reservation, with a large number of expansions, renovations and new projects. But tribal leaders say it is not accurate to infer that both trends stem from any sudden increase in their capacity to spend.
"It's reflective of the need out there," said Glynn Crooks, vice chairman of the tribe.
In some cases, added tribal administrator Bill Rudnicki, it's a matter of other sources of support falling away.
"There are things that at one time were government supported, and now they're backing off," he said. "We might have been one of three legs of a project, and one of the three backed off, and we felt it necessary to do more."
The tribe's growing presence as a philanthropic force first drew wide public attention last year, when its reported giving for 2007 was placed at $21 million, ranking it among the top 25 corporate and foundation grant makers in a state known for its robust charitable sector.
But a final report for that year has emerged in the past few days, putting the actual number at $26 million. And giving for 2008 -- with the end of the tribe's fiscal year still several weeks off -- is being estimated at about $32 million so far.
The $12 million gift to the University of Minnesota, for scholarships and for a plaza at the new football stadium celebrating the state's tribes, figures into the total for the past two years.
With fiscal years varying, it will be some time before the tribe's giving can be placed in precise rank against other major grant-making organizations, according to the Minnesota Council on Foundations.
The most recent uniform data available are for 2006, when the tribe ranked 16th, with giving of $18 million. Giving of more than $30 million could put in the top 10.
Bill King, president of the council, said the tribe isn't the only major grant-making organization whose giving is rising, but its rate of increase puts it at or near the top.
"Looking at the '07 figures," he said, "the top 25 list, which we are not ready to release yet, the Shakopee group records an increase of about 44 percent. Two others in the top 25 have seen an increase of 40-plus percent, and five in the 20- to 30-percent range. So we do see that fluctuation, and we're not always sure what's behind it."
Many of the local grants are smaller than the millions being spent on basic services among South Dakota tribes but are no less welcome. One tribal news release, disclosing a grant of $25,000 to the Jordan Elementary School to help bring in new Smart Boards to every classroom, quoted principal Stacey DeCorsey as saying that teachers literally were "jumping up and down when they heard the news."
True, she confirmed on Wednesday.
"It doesn't happen often that I get a $25,000 check in the mail," she said. "It took my breath away. I hope we conveyed to them how appreciative we are. It changed the lives of the kids in Jordan. It's an interactive white board: If a child says, 'Who's Martin Luther King?' -- within seconds we can have streaming video of the 'I Have a Dream' speech. We watched the space shuttle launch in real time. It's an amazing teaching tool, and we in this little district couldn't have done it without their help."
David Peterson • 952-882-9023