Stanley Crooks, leader of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, one of the nation's wealthiest and most influential tribes, died Saturday morning of natural causes. 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 Chairman Crooks in mourning his passing."

According to tribal authorities, Crooks died surrounded by family and friends at St. Francis Regional Medical Center in Shakopee.

Those who knew Crooks said he would be remembered as a keen businessman and generous leader.

"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, who became the tribe's chairman in 1992, was a national figure in Indian country, serving as the chairman of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association for many years and the tribe's representative to the National Indian Gaming Association, as well as to the National Congress of American Indians.

He served in the Navy during the Cuban missile crisis. His late father, Norman, served as the first chairman of the Shakopee Sioux community.

Thanks in part to Crooks' leadership, the Shakopee tribe provided invaluable help to other tribes in the form of numerous grants, low-interest loans and advice, McCarthy said. Under his leadership, Shakopee 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.

Despite his success, Crooks was very down-to-Earth, McCarthy said.

Shakopee Mayor Brad Tabke described him as a "wonderful listener" who helped bridge communities. It was with Crooks' blessing that Shakopee, Prior Lake and Scott County were able to reach an agreement to form a new cooperative intergovernmental working group this February that serves as a forum for resolving intergovernmental disputes and generally enhancing 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 impact of the 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.

According to constitutional procedures that govern the community, Vice Chairman 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