Sharing the wealth

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PRIOR LAKE, Minn. - The Shakopee Mdewakantaon Sioux (Dakota) Community expresses its philosophy about philanthropy this way: “When our needs are met, we have the good fortune to assist others.”

That simple, eloquent statement applies to many indigenous peoples where giving is both a value and a means of distributing wealth, and an increasing number of “casino tribes” are using their wealth to help others, both near and far.
The Shakopees’ charitable giving grew from $23 million in 2000-2003 to more than $108.5 million by the end of 2007.

In 2008, the community donated more than $40 million to other tribes, communities and organizations.

The single biggest donation was a $12.5 million gift to the University of Minnesota. Of that amount, $10 million is for a football stadium and a plaza at the west entrance of the stadium, called the Minnesota Tribal Nations Plaza. The stunning design will have 11 18-foot tall glass sky markers representing the state’s tribes. Each tribe will decorate its marker with whatever images and information it wants to display. The remaining $2.5 million will create a matching fund toward a $5 million scholarship endowment with a preference for American Indian students.

Shakopee also gave a gift of $60,000 to the Duwamish Tribe of Seattle to equip the kitchen in its new longhouse. The 6,000-square-foot Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center is the first longhouse to grace Seattle’s landscape since 1894. It will include ceremonial space, exhibits, a gift shop and upstairs offices. The kitchen will be a revenue generator for the Duwamish; as they intend to establish a line of smoked salmon and prepare traditional foods for longhouse visitors.

In September the Shakopee made a payment of $292,930 to the National Congress of American Indians Embassy of Tribal Nations project. The payment was part of a $1 million challenge grant announced two years ago when the tribe challenged other tribes to support the capital campaign to fund the embassy in Washington, D.C. So far, Shakopee has contributed almost $717,000.

In October, the tribe awarded $236,472 to 42 social service organizations mostly in the Twin Cities, to provide toys, clothing, food, activities and other gifts for families during the holidays.

“The holiday season can be hard for those who are less fortunate so we like to help out where we can. We’ve been blessed, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to help others,” said SMSC Chairman Stanley Crooks.

The San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians has a far reaching philanthropic hand. In May San Manuel donated $500,000 in aid to Not on Our Watch, a nonprofit humanitarian organization that provides aid to Darfur where years of conflict have killed 200,000 people and driven more than 2.5 million from their homes.

San Manuel has also come to the rescue of tribes in emergency situations. In October, the tribe donated $1 million to the Havasupai Tribe of Arizona, a 650-member tribe living in the Grand Canyon where flash floods in August wiped out the tribe’s economic infrastructure. San Manual contributed $1 million for relief efforts after raging wildfires devastated southern California.

The tribe also contributed a hefty $100,000 to NCAI for the American Indians’ Embassy of Tribal Nations capital campaign during NCAI’s 65th annual meeting and conference in Phoenix in October.

“NCAI has been at the forefront fighting the issues that face Indian country,” said San Manuel Chairman James Ramos. “We should be able to give back to the very organization that has stood up for tribal sovereignty for so many years. We are glad to stand behind NCAI.”

Shakopee and San Manuel are the tip of the iceberg in Native philanthropy. The Kellogg Foundation, a philanthropic organization that encourages philanthropy gave two of its five awards this year to organizations that promote economic and professional development in Native American communities.

The Seattle-based Potlatch Fund was selected “for its dedication in inspiring the Native tradition of giving in Northwest Indian country,” said Alandra Washington, program director for philanthropy and volunteerism. “They are a great model and a great example of a grass roots movement of philanthropy.”

Kellogg also awarded the Minneapolis-based Native Americans in Philanthropy for promoting, facilitating and celebrating philanthropic giving to Native communities.