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'Philanthropy' -- Giving is a tradition with the Dakota

Editors’ note: This is the first of several articles that will focus on the philanthropy of tribes that are in a position to make serious contributions to Indian country for the benefit of all people. This series is intended to point out that tribes in a position to help others do, and that the benefits are far-reaching. This is not intended to be a public relations series for any tribe or organization: it is strictly informational. Subsequent articles will provide details of how some organizations and tribes have been helped.

PRIOR LAKE, Minn. – Many indigenous nations across the country have the spirit of sharing embedded within the culture and that giving is still part of everyday life for many people.

Now, something new has been added to the star quilts and horses and beadwork and tobacco and sage gifts: money – and lots of it. Everything being relative, it’s all the same, a gift to honor or a gift among friends or family for a special event.

The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community has taken that tradition to a new level, and in the past few years has given away more than $70 million. The list of tribes and people who have been helped is long.

History helps the Mdewakanton remember how life was for their ancestors. They lived in a plush region along the Minnesota River, where game was prevalent and the land was rich with food. It was a wealthy group of people in the 18th and early-19th centuries.

That all changed with the westward movement, and with corrupt government agents and traders who would not give the Dakota people credit for food and provisions. A war broke out, and many settlers and Dakota were killed in what is known as the Dakota Conflict of 1862. It ended with 39 Dakota warriors hanged in the largest mass execution in this nation’s history, authorized by President Abraham Lincoln.

Then came removal to the barren land along the Missouri in South Dakota at the Crow Creek reservation. After many died, some returned to Minnesota to form the community now known as Shakopee, named after Chief Shakopee or Little Six.

The SMSC received federal recognition as a community in 1969, starting with some 32 acres of land. Now the community owns 2,200 acres and that figure is growing.

In 1982, with the advent of bingo and, soon after, Mega-Bucks bingo, the transition from an impoverished people to a comfortable lifestyle began. Now Mystic Lake Casino is considered one of the premiere American Indian-owned casinos in the nation.

It would have been easy to squirrel away the profits, but for the Shakopee community, following Dakota tradition means giving – and that was more important.

The SMSC philanthropy budget is directly tied to the community’s overall revenue budget, figures that are not made public. Bill Rudnicki, community executive director, said that in 2001 the community gave away $6 million; in 2004, $10.2 million; and in 2005, $15.7 million. Up until 2005, $56 million had been donated in all. Now, 2006 is adding up to be another banner year for recipients.

“We are happy to be in a position to help others. It is in the nature of the Dakota to help others in need,” said Glynn Crooks, vice chairman of the business council.

“We are happy to do it. If they want to thank us, fine, but it is our culture to want to help people. Our thanks is when they [the recipients] can make their dreams a reality,” Crooks said.

The SMSC business council is not skimpy about dollar figures: $4.1 million was given to the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe; millions given to the Upper Sioux Community in Minnesota, $1 million for the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Boys and Girls Club; the Santee Sioux of Nebraska was supported financially to improve economic development for that small reservation; and the Yankton Sioux Tribe in South Dakota just broke ground for a new community center with a $1 million advance from Shakopee and another $1 million to come next year.

Dialysis centers were opened on the Yankton and Pine Ridge reservations as a direct result of SMSC generosity. Economic development on the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Reservation in South Dakota would be only a dream without help from their relatives in Minnesota.

And on the Pine Ridge Reservation, a new hotel and casino is under construction and at the same time, some immediate debt was paid from a $38 million loan. That loan would not have been possible through commercial banking institutions.

Victims of domestic violence on Pine Ridge will soon have a new shelter, thanks to $500,000 in startup funds from the SMSC. The Minneapolis American Indian Center also received startup funds for a capital campaign to remodel the much-needed building to provide better and additional services to that large community.

Not all requests are approved. Crooks said they received a request from someone to help with travel expenses to attend a beauty pageant and another to pay for a basketball team to travel to Australia.

Local communities are not exempt. The SMSC bought construction bonds from the city of Belle Plaine for $14.7 million at a low interest rate so that construction on a very dangerous stretch of highway in Scott County, where the Shakopee Community is located, can begin early. The community also bought 11 acres of land for $1.4 million to build a road – and not because they needed to, Rudnicki said.

The city of Prior Lake, where Mystic Lake Casino is located, is a major beneficiary of the SMSC’s generosity. A new fire station was built, new equipment purchased and emergency medical technicians now assist in emergency and fire calls to the surrounding communities with state-of-the art equipment.

It does not all happen without criticism. Some members of local county boards complain that the SMSC does not do enough.

With all the help the SMSC provides in the Twin Cities area, image is still a problem. Crooks said that most media outlets in the area do not chose to print stories about the good that the community does, but when negative issues emerge the media is available.

The SMSC receives up to 225 requests for financial assistance a week.

Crooks said there have been no discussions between tribes that are in the same position as Shakopee to form a coalition of philanthropy. The SMSC belongs to a coalition in Minnesota.

“They are glad that we do this so they don’t have to,” Crooks said.

Rudnicki referred to the Shakopee position as “the gold standard” of philanthropy. The SMSC is listed in the top 20 organizations in Minnesota for giving.

<b> SMSC funding goes deep</b>

In 2005, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community awarded more than $15 million to various organizations. The following is a breakdown of where that money went.

Tribes – $11.3 million

Education – $1.5 million

American Indian organizations – $1.5 million

Pow wow – $107,500

Holiday giving – $171,230

Health care initiatives/events – $736,200

<b>Organizations:</b>

Minnesota American Indian Center – $250,000

Minnesota American Indian Chamber of Commerce – $30,000

National Congress of American Indians – $100,000 grant

National Indian Gaming Association – $100,000 grant

Ain Dah Yung (St. Paul, Minn.) emergency shelter – $186,500 total

<b>A further breakdown by organization and tribes:</b>

Bois Forte Band of Chippewa for Wellness Center – $1 million donation

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe for new bingo hall – $1 million grant

Bennett County School District (Martin, S.D.) for activity center – $250,000 donation

Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe for economic development – $350,000 grant

Lower Sioux Indian Community for youth center – $1 million grant

Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Nations for downpayment program on homes – $750,000 grant

Ponca Tribe of Nebraska for economic development – $1 million grant

Santee Sioux Tribe for community improvement – $1 million grant

Yankton Sioux Tribe for upgrades on casino – $1 million grant

<i>Many other contributions exist, but remain too numerous for to include in this space.