Stanley R. Crooks, the beloved chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and revered Indian country leader, died on Saturday, August 25 at the St. Francis Regional Medical Center in Shakopee, Minnesota, surrounded by his family and friends, the nation announced on its website.
Crooks,70, was the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community’s (SMSC) chairman since 1992, serving successive four-year terms for more than 20 years. He was reelected last January. During his tenure, SMSC grew and prospered and set the model throughout Indian country for unprecedented generosity and philanthropy toward both Native and non-Native peoples, organizations and communities. Since 1996, SMSC has donated more than $243 million to tribes and charitable organizations and has made loans of more than $450 million for economic and community development.
“Here at the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, we are firm in our commitment to help others; this is ingrained in us as Dakota people from a young age,” Crooks wrote in the nation’s annual donations report for 2011. “It is our tradition, our cultural responsibility, to help those who have not been as fortunate as we have been. We get no incentive or tax breaks because of our charitable giving. It is just the right thing to do.”
The nation also issued statements from Crooks’ colleagues on the Shakopee council. Vice-Chairman Charlie Vig said he was honored to have worked with Crooks for the past 20 years “and especially over the last eight months on the Tribal Council. Chairman Crooks was a leader in every sense of the word. He was a true mentor and a true leader. We join with his family, friends, and all those who were privileged to know Chairman Crooks in mourning his passing. We offer our deepest sympathies to his family in this difficult time.”
Secretary/Treasurer Keith B. Anderson said he was “deeply saddened by the passing of our beloved Chairman Stanley Crooks. Stan had dedicated himself to improving the lives of others. He was truly a visionary and a fierce defender of tribal sovereignty. Stan has been a mentor, colleague, and a true friend. My association with the chairman over the last 20 plus years has enabled me to grow as a person. He was truly a modern day giant. We have lost a true legend. We love you, Stanley, rest in peace. Our hearts go out to his beloved wife and his family members. Stanley, your hard work and dedication will endure for generations to come.”
According to the Shakopee’s constitutional procedures, Vig succeeds Crooks and Anderson assumes the office of vice-chairman. A tribal election will be held to fill the office of secretary/treasurer.
National Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr., in a voice husky with emotion, described Crooks as a “giant of a man, a leader, a model, a mentor who taught us everything. How he speaks, how he dresses—he’s a moderate man and everything he does is real and all I’ve ever known him to do is to try to help others.”
Stevens said he attends the Shakopee annual wacipi every year “because I love him and respect him so much.” Each year he and Crooks would spend an hour or so in Crooks’ recreational vehicle that was parked at the powwow grounds, and the two men would talk about all the current issues and events in Indian country. This year when Stevens attended the wacipi, which took place August 17-19, he visited Crooks in the hospital.
“When I left him a few days ago in the afternoon, he was surrounded by his wife and tribal council who are very close to him. I told him just to rest and get better and not to worry about Washington and Indian country because he had trained us well. He was one of the finest Indian leaders ever! Certainly, he was my teacher. He squeezed my hand and tried to talk.”
Although Crooks’ passing is sad for everyone, Stevens said, “You don’t have to worry, we’ll celebrate his memory. We’ve got to be able to help more people do what he did. They (Shakopee) had a good operation, but Stan was helping people long before they developed their resources (from gaming and other enterprises) and he really set the standard for helping others, especially other tribes, and that’s what we have to do with our resources, whether they’re great or small. He was a modern day warrior,” Stevens said.
Philip Baker-Shenk, an attorney with the firm Holland and Knight that represents the Shakopee, said Crooks had endured a long respiratory illness that turned acute in the last several weeks. “Stan was a dear friend. And a tireless defender of tribal sovereignty. And a huge patron of so many good causes and a giant mentor for so many good people in Indian country. Original giants like Chairman Stanley Crooks can never be replaced; at best they can only be copied,” Shenk said. Crooks was known for his fierce defense of tribal sovereignty and self-determination. “It’s where he began and ended every thought,” Baker-Shenk said. Crooks had an analytical mind and “the ability to penetrate through the clutter of personality and detail and distraction to find the essence of an issue and then make a decision about a particular wise course of action and then executive it,” Baker-Shenk said. “I’m emotionally overwhelmed by the loss and I know so many, many people are.”
In a statement on his website, Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Zellers said, "Today, Minnesota lost a great leader in Chairman Stanley Crooks. His legacy of helping people in need and working hard to improve the lives of American Indians will endure in Minnesota's history. Stanley was a remarkable and wise leader who did an enormous amount of good in his life, 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. It was a privilege to know Stanley and I am proud to call him a personal friend. My family and I send my condolences and prayers to Stanley's family and the members of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community."
Crooks was a well known and hugely respected national figure. He served as the chairman of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association for many years and was the SMSC representative to the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA), as well as to the National Congress of American Indians. A United States Navy veteran, he served during the Cuban Missile Crisis. His father, the late Norman M. Crooks, was the first chairman of SMSC. Crooks received many honors including:
- the Wendell Chino Humanitarian Award, honoring a tribal leader who demonstrates a commitment to the advancement of tribal sovereignty, from NIGA in 2005;
- the National Indian Gaming Association Leadership Award on April 7, 2010
- the NIGA Chairman’s Leadership Award of Excellence: Going Green for Mother Earth on October 20, 2010;
- a Global Gaming Business magazine spotlight as “25 People to Watch” in January 2011;
- Tribal Leader of the Year by the Native American Finance Officers Association on March 23, 2011;
- 2012 Eagle Visionary Award Winner in July 2012 by Indian Gaming magazine and was the first of six honorees into their newly established Indian Gaming Hall of Fame.
In a recent interview on Minnesota Public Radio, Crooks reflected on Dakota history, culture and the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 and its aftermath, “which was ever present on his mind this year, the 150-year remembrance of that tragic time in Dakota history,” the nation announced on its website. The war, which had its roots in treaty violations by the United States in the late 1850’s that resulted in hunger and hardship among the Dakota, began on August 17, 1862, along the Minnesota River in southwest Minnesota, and ended with the U.S. Army’s mass execution of 38 Dakota men on December 26, 1862, in Mankato, Minnesota—an act that would be considered a war crime and a crime against humanity by today’s standards.
Asked about the lingering consequences of the 1862 war and mass execution on Dakota people, Crooks said that year’s events set the stage for how the federal government planned to treat the Lakota and Dakota people: first, they would be put on reservations. “Then they would, I hate to say it, but they had an active plan of extermination. Fortunately, a lot of good people in Washington and other cities said, 'We can't do that. And now we've got to find a way to deal with them,’” Crooks said. Assimilation came next but “Indian people are not amenable to assimilation.” Crooks reflected back to Roman times when conquered people were just wiped out or taken in and if they were taken in the conquerors took away their language and culture. “I think the United States did something similar with Native Americans. It's all about the land, obviously, as they were growing we were in the way of that… But we're still here and we found a way now to continue to work together.”
The nation announced Crooks passing “with great sadness.”
As he journeys to the Spirit World, the nation said, Crooks leaves his wife of 48 years, Cheryl; two daughters, Cherie Crooks and Alisa Crooks; four grandchildren: Joe Bathel, Kc Bathel, Dakota Crooks, and Jesse Crooks; three great grandchildren, Neveah Bathel, Dreamma Crooks, and Aiyanna Bathel; uncle, Clifford Crooks, Senior; brothers, Mike (Renate) Crooks, Danny “Skip” (Laurie) Crooks, and George Crooks. He was preceded in death by his parents Norman and Edith Crooks, and brothers Norman Woodrow Crooks, Alex Crooks, and Alfred Crooks.
A traditional all night wake will be held after 5 p.m. Tuesday, August 28 at the Tiowakan Spiritual Center, with Prayer Service 7 p.m. Funeral services will be held Wednesday, August 29 at 11 a.m. at the Tiowakan Spiritual Center followed by interment at Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Cemetery. Due to space limitations inside Tiowakan Spiritual Center and the many people expected to attend the services, auxiliary locations and a shuttle service will be available. Parking at the Tiowakan Spiritual Center throughout the wake and funeral services will be limited to immediate family members. Complete information will be posted on the Shakopee website as soon as details are finalized.