Success on the islandBefore the economic boom created by Treasure Island Resort & Casino on Prairie Island, the Mdewakanton Dakota relied on trapping and selling fur for survival. Prairie Island is important to the tribe because of the plants used of the medicinal and spiritual purposes that grow there.
Before the economic boom created by Treasure Island Resort & Casino on Prairie Island, the Mdewakanton Dakota relied on trapping and selling fur for survival. Prairie Island is important to the tribe because of the plants used of the medicinal and spiritual purposes that grow there.
At one time, Mississippi River trading was controlled by Wabasha I, a Mdewakanton chief, and tribal members under his protection. It would be several years — after encroaching settlement, a war, return from Nebraska — before the area was designated a reservation in 1885.
As East Coast settlement expanded, the Mdewakanton Dakota were crowded by other tribes being pushed westward. After the Dakota Conflict of 1862, some scattered. The government held others at Fort Snelling, eventually moving them in 1863 to Crow Creek, S.D., and finally in 1868 to Nebraska’s Santee Reservation.
The Mdewakanton were woodland people, and they had been transplanted to the prairie. By that time the buffalo were gone and hunting was less productive. Some tried their hand at farming. Others found work building government structures and eventually settled in Nebraska and South Dakota.
But many returned to Prairie Island. Since it was prone to flooding, it was some of the last land settled in Goodhue County. The migration began in about 1870 and lasted 30 years.
Some tribal members worked on area arms. Others trapped, selling fur to trading companies operating in Minneapolis and St. Paul. There were few opportunities for young people and many moved after World War II.
The economy hit members hard, forcing them to leave and find jobs elsewhere, according to tribal elders. But in 1984 when the tribe established gaming on its lands, it became a success. That was one of the few businesses that survived.
The opportunity to conduct gaming on Prairie Island caused dramatic effects. Treasure Island Resort & Casino — which began as a bingo hall in 1984, then added the casino in 1991 and the hotel in 1997 — has made it possible for tribal members to make a living on Prairie Island. With 1,500 employees, Treasure Island is one of Goodhue County’s largest private employers.
Casino profits help tribal members in several ways.
Members receive full health insurance. They may attend any college or technical school and the tribe will pay for tuition, books and living expenses. Profits also have helped the tribe to develop streets and sewer projects, provide a clinic, emergency services and community services.
Building improvements in the 1990s included a casino/tribal government office building, a 95-space recreational vehicle park, a 137-slip marina and a community center offering softball fields and a swimming pool. Major additions and renovations continued in the last decade.
The traditions of the Indian community are making their comeback as well. Tribal members and non-Indians have an opportunity to learn about the culture at summer and winter powwows. Others are taking an interest in singing and in traditional dances.
More are participating in sweat lodges. A growing number are taking part in naming ceremonies where 8-year-old children are given an ancestor’s name.
The buffalo project also has seen tremendous growth.
The success of Treasure Island Resort & Casino on Prairie Island has allowed the tribe to maintain its culture while providing economic opportunities for both tribal members and the region.