$1 Million Each Year for All, as Long as Tribe’s Luck Holds
A generation ago, the Shakopee Mdewakanton tribe lived in a motley collection of beat-up trailer homes, melting snow for bath water when wells froze over because they lacked indoor plumbing. Three-quarters of tribal members received government food supplements.
Today, the Shakopee Mdewakanton are believed to be the richest tribe in American history as measured by individual personal wealth: Each adult, according to court records and confirmed by one tribal member, receives a monthly payment of around $84,000, or $1.08 million a year.
The financial success of the 480 members of the Shakopee Tribe — whose ancestors 150 years ago were hunted down, slaughtered and eventually exiled from Minnesota — derives from their flourishing casino and resort operation, which on weekends swells the population of their tiny reservation to the size of a city.
“We have 99.2 percent unemployment,” Stanley R. Crooks, the tribe’s president, said as he smiled during a rare interview. “It’s entirely voluntary.”
While the Shakopee tribe continues to prosper, casino gambling in much of Indian Country — which tribes say is the only economic development tool that has ever worked on reservations — has in recent months come increasingly under threat, stirring worries that the long lucky streak is over.