Shakopee Mdewakanton becoming a player in charitable world

Prior Lake, Minnesota (AP) 10-07

The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, the owner of Mystic Lake Casino, plans to hand out $21 million this year, making the tribe a major philanthropic player in Minnesota and possibly the most generous tribe in the country.

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, the council’s executive director. “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.

During November, the tribe’s giving will surpasses $100 million.

“We’re just happy to be able to help when we can,” tribal vice chairman Glynn A. Crooks said. “We can’t do everything, but we do help.”

John McCarthy, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, said the tribe is probably the top philanthropic American Indian group in the country. He estimates that the three wealthiest tribes in Minnesota – Shakopee, the Prairie Island Mdewakanton Dakota Tribe and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe – together donate $35 million to $40 million a year.

In the past 25 years, Indian gambling has grown to a $1.2 billion industry with 18 casinos operated by Minnesota’s 11 tribes. The most successful casino operation has been Shakopee’s, which McCarthy estimates generates $600 million a year or more. Others estimate the tribe’s revenue is closer to $1 billion.

The tribe routinely declines to comment on revenue figures or what percentage of revenues the charitable giving represents.

The tribe has dramatically increased its giving in the wake of increasing pressure from politicians to give even more.

State Sen. Dick Day, R-Owatonna, has pushed the tribe to share its wealth with the state and its poorer tribes. While Day said he’s backed off somewhat and welcomes the tribe’s donations, he said the state’s wealthier tribes could do more.

“Here are these people sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars, and everybody thinks this is just wonderful,” Day said. “Then you have (poor reservations) like White Earth and Red Lake, and you can just cry leaving those places.”

Among the biggest benefactors of the tribe’s generosity has been the Oglala Sioux on impoverished Pine Ridge.

Apart from the shelter for battered women, the Oglala will use the Shakopee money to construct a station this fall to keep its ambulances warm. In the past, ambulances on Pine Ridge were kept running all night in winter so they were instantly available.

Cecilia Fire Thunder, the former president of the Oglala tribe, said the Shakopee money literally saved the Oglala, who were in so much debt in 2004 that the tribe was ready to, in effect, declare bankruptcy and turn its finances over to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Minnesota tribe provided the Oglala with a $38 million loan, which helped the tribe pay off its $17 million debt and expand its casino, Fire Thunder said.

Information from: Star Tribune,