An old adage has it that gambling is a tax for people who can’t do math. When it comes to casinos on tribal lands, well-managed profits are doing the work of taxes—improving lives both within and outside of the tribe. Native Peoples (January/February 2012) cites the Mdewakanton Sioux of Shakopee, Minnesota, who have used earnings from Mystic Lake Casino to rise from poverty to financial powerhouse.
After generations of disenfranchisement, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) gained tribal recognition from the U.S. government in 1969. Despite hardship in the following years, the community established a healthcare program, childcare facility, and home improvement program. In 1982 they opened Little Six Bingo Palace, and its success laid the groundwork for Mystic Lake Casino.
Since the casino’s opening in 1992, it has been easy to track the rise of the Mdewakanton Sioux. In 1993, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community constructed a community center, followed by a fitness center, convenience store, and mall. It expanded the casino’s earning potential by adding a hotel and RV park. Soon the community saw infrastructure improvements, subdivision housing, and improved health services. Members began growing wild rice, keeping bees, making maple syrup, and tending an orchard and organic garden. The tribe restored wetlands, built a spiritual center, and invested in events and programs to preserve and celebrate Dakota heritage.
Additionally, the SMSC has become a leader in environmental stewardship. In 2006, it opened a green-roofed water reclamation facility that turns bio-waste into fertilizer and irrigation water. In 2009, it erected a wind turbine, which supplies more than enough power to meet residential demand. The tribe also makes use of biomass power, geothermal temperature control, and biodiesel fuel (converted from used vegetable oil from its restaurants). The community has been composting for several years and is planning an expanded organics recycling facility. Members are hoping nearby cities follow suit.
In keeping with the Dakota saying mitakuye owasin, “we are all related,” the SMSC has granted and loaned more than half a billion dollars to other tribes for economic development, and donated $14.5 million to the University of Minnesota for scholarships and a new football stadium. Far from its days of destitution, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community is setting an example any business would be wise to follow.