The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) has applied to put in trust nearly 300 acres of recently purchased acreage in Prior Lake and Shakopee, a designation that allows the federal government to take ownership and protect it for the tribe indefinitely.

The designation would also allow the tribe, which owns and operates Mystic Lake Casino Hotel, to forgo paying taxes on the land since it would provide all services there.

The trust designation puts the property under tribal law and jurisdiction, helping the tribe to meet its housing, economic development and environmental goals. Putting land into trust is one of the tribe's "most essential functions," said tribal planner Nicole Hendrickson.

Joseph Bauerkemper, American Indian Studies professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth, noted another benefit: "If the land were not put into trust … it could be sold without significant process or oversight."

The process takes 10 months to two years, Hendrickson said, and will need approval from the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

"There is an excitement as a community," she said. "The tribe once held half the state of Minnesota and has been so drastically affected culturally and socially from land loss."

The SMSC purchased the land on the market a couple of years ago. Named Hinhankaga, referring to the number of owls there, the property includes eight parcels in Prior Lake and 11 in Shakopee, Hendrickson said.

Most of the land is row crops and pasture, forests and wetlands. The tribe doesn't plan to change its uses; there are five tribal homes on the land.

Similar trust applications by the SMSC have drawn objections from Scott County, Shakopee and Prior Lake. Bauerkemper said it's not uncommon for local officials to bristle at land being put into trust, often because of loss of tax capacity. The tribe paid $140,566 in 2019 property taxes.

Shakopee, which unsuccessfully went to court a decade ago to restrain the tribe's trust activity, has sent essentially the same letter in response to the latest trust application, City Administrator Bill Reynolds said. The city notes that the loss of taxable land will spread the tax burden to other county taxpayers.

Lezlie Vermillion, Scott County's administrator, said the county doesn't object to the application, aside from the impact on taxpayers. She said county officials appreciate the tribe's recent efforts to collaborate and that the pace of its trust applications has slowed. "They had a lot of them coming four or five years ago, coming fast, one right after the other," she said.

Jason Wedel, city manager for Prior Lake, said the city and tribe have sought to reach agreements when land was put into trust, stemming from an SMSC trust application in 2018 for property already being developed that caught officials by surprise.

"We've kind of gotten into this pattern now … [of] how can we put agreements together that benefit all of us," Wedel said.

Hendrickson said the tribe generally has agreed to work with Prior Lake on issues with city projects planned on or near the land they hope to put in trust, including trails and road improvements. The application lists $63 million in tribal contributions to Prior Lake community projects and local agreements since 2003.

Bauerkemper said that transferring land into trust ultimately creates a stronger relationship between a tribe and the land.

"These lands are Dakota lands, they are the Indigenous homelands of the Mdewakanton," Bauerkemper said. "They are restoring these lands they were dispossessed of. ... It's a decision that a tribal government makes on behalf of the future citizens of that tribe."

Erin Adler • 612-673-1781