Stanley R. Crooks, leader of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, one of the nation's wealthiest and most influential American Indian tribes, died of natural causes Saturday morning. He was 70.
For more than 20 years, Crooks led the 480-member tribe, which owns and operates the highly successful Mystic Lake Casino Hotel in Prior Lake, and served as a national figurehead for tribal sovereignty.
"Chairman Crooks was a leader in every sense of the word," tribal vice chairman Charlie Vig said in a statement. "I am honored to have worked with Stanley over the last 20 years. ... We join with his family, friends, and all those who were privileged to know [him] in mourning his passing."
According to tribal authorities, Crooks died surrounded by family members and friends at St. Francis Regional Medical Center in Shakopee.
He'll be remembered as a keen businessman and a generous leader, said those who knew him.
"It's unmeasurable the impact that he had on tribal people and Indian country, not just in Minnesota but the whole country," said John McCarthy, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association.
Crooks, a Navy veteran and son of Norman Crooks, the tribe's first chairman, was elected chairman in 1992. Over the next few years, he became a national figure, serving as chairman of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association for many years and as the tribe's representative to the National Indian Gaming Association, as well as to the National Congress of American Indians.
Crooks was well-known as a fierce defender of tribal sovereignty nationally and locally. In 2005, he was among Minnesota Indian leaders who resisted then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty's failed attempt to use tribal casino money to help solve state budget problems.
Crooks also was known for encouraging his community to be generous in sharing the wealth it built from casino earnings. Thanks in part to his leadership, tribe members approved community donations of more than $243 million to tribes and charitable organizations, and tribal loans of more than $450 million for economic development and community development.
"We feel we have an obligation to help others. It's part of our culture as Dakota people. It is who we are," Crooks was often heard to say.
A builder of bridges
Shakopee Mayor Brad Tabke described Crooks as a "wonderful listener" who helped bridge communities. With Crooks' help, Shakopee, Prior Lake and Scott County were able to form a cooperative working group this February that serves as a forum for resolving intergovernmental disputes and improving intergovernmental relations.
"It's been really good to have that dialogue, which wouldn't have happened previously," Tabke said. "Stanley was great in terms of opening those relationships up."
Prior Lake Mayor Mike Myser said Crooks' leadership and the resulting growth of Mystic Lake and in turn of the community has been "nothing short of amazing."
"I think he's been a very, very positive influence on our community," Myser said.
Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Zellers called Crooks "a great leader."
"His legacy of helping people in need and working hard to improve the lives of American Indians will endure in Minnesota's history," Zellers said. "Stanley was a remarkable and wise leader who did an enormous amount of good, not only for his own tribe, but for many people all across the Midwest. He was not only a great individual leader, but a great Minnesotan."
According to the community's constitutional procedures, Vig will succeed Crooks and secretary/treasurer Keith B. Anderson will assume the office of vice chairman. A tribal election will be held to fill Anderson's office.
Crooks is survived by his wife of 48 years, Cheryl; two daughters, Cherie and Alisa; three brothers, Mike, Danny and George, and other family members. Funeral plans are pending.
Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495 Twitter: @stribnorfleet