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Shakopee Tribe Funds Four Directions Voting Rights Efforts — Now What, Bob?

Yesterday Bob Mercer and the GOP spin machine called for resurrecting Senate Bill 33, the Indian Voter Suppression Act, with an amendment to require that private groups who fund voting stations and other elections administration activities reveal their funding sources. The only such group in South Dakota is Four Directions, which has advocated for and funded voting stations that have improved access and raised turnout among American Indian voters. Apparently if we don't know where Four Directions gets its money, the republic is in peril (unlike Mike Rounds, who can get support from a secretive PAC and catch no flak).

Four Directions doesn't make any big secret of its funding sources. Four Directions exec O.J. Semans says one big donor is the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community from Minnesota. Semans wrote this commentary in eulogy of Shakopee Chairman Stanley Crooks in 2012:

Chairman Crooks along with President Bordeaux of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Presidents John Yellow Bird Steele, and President Two Bulls of the Oglala Sioux Nation, were instrumental in opening up early voting stations on the Reservations. Chairman Crooks was aware of the importance of having Tribes participate in Federal and State elections to ensure fair treatment and to protect our treaties and sovereignty. He was also aware that Tribal members were not treated equally when it came to voting and provided the funding to help Four Directions make it equal.

In 2004, the South Dakota Tribes had one day of voting. The rest of the state had six weeks to vote. Chairman Crooks understood that Tribes could never compete in elections with a 1 day to 42 day ratio. He funded Four Directions to open the door to equality. Because of Chairman Crooks, we have permanent early voting on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation, and full early voting on the Oglala Sioux Nation in 2012. We are now working with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Dewey County Commissioners to have six weeks of early voting and have the tribal secretary’s office as the deputy auditor to help conduct the state and federal elections [Oliver J. Semans, "Chairman Stanley Crooks, a Great Leader, Is on His Journey to the Spirit World," Indian Country Today, 2012.08.31].

The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux have also helped South Dakota tribes buy land, fund police, build a park, fund new businesses, replace slot machines, give scholarships, fund an after-school training and jobs program, build a nursing home, support a rodeo and culture club at Flandreau Indian School, and put on pow wows. (Read the Shakopee tribe's 2012 funding report to see the full list of charitable projects.)

Four Directions is more forthcoming about its funding sources than Republican groups like ALEC that skip the crap-shoot of "influencing" elections by increasing voter turnout and go straight to buying legislators. Even though he didn't name the Shakopee tribe in response to questions during his testimony on SB 33 last week at the Capitol in Pierre, he was more forthcoming about his organization's activities and intent than Secretary of State Jason Gant, who refused in his testimony to identify any specific, extant threat to fair elections that SB 33 was meant to target and who completely dodged the question of what would happen to Indian voting access if his SB 33 passed.

But if we want full transparency, we need to ask where the Shakopee tribe gets its money. Among their various successful enterprises is the Mystic Lake Casino and Hotel. But where does the casino get its money? Start taking names and voter IDs on the way to the slots, and I'll bet we'll find some well-heeled retirees who are brought there on tours promoted by the Republican-controlled South Dakota Department of Tourism.

So Republicans are supporting the improper influence of elections on South Dakota reservations! I knew it! Shut it down! (For what it's worth, the Shakopee tribe has also been increasing its donations to Republican candidates.)

The funding and intent of satellite voting stations on reservations are no secret. Neither, alas, are the racism and political scheming inherent in the Republican effort to shut those stations down.


  1. Lanny V Stricherz 2014.01.28

    The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Tribe also provides heating assistance to the South Dakota Tribes, when their local heating assistance runs out. They just have to give ample notice to the Minnesotans that they will run short.

    Cory, You wrote, "Neither, alas, are the racism and political scheming inherent in the Republican effort to shut those stations down." That is not the only scheming they do. When I lived in Sisseton, which, because the tribe gives a lot of votes to Dems, I witnessed in the 2004 and 2006 elections, city police and county sheriff's cars sitting in the parking lot of the polling place. This of course to intimidate any tribal member, who might have some issue with the law, into not voting.

  2. Roger Cornelius 2014.01.28


    Thanks for picking up my "investigative" challenge to find the funding source for Four Directions. I knew it was Shakopee when I made my comment and just wanted to see who the first "investigative reporter" would be.

    What Mercer did or didn't do with his story is disappointing and in many ways is typical of Rapid City Journal reporting.
    The information on Four Directions has always been available for anyone to see, it just requires some searching, as you did.

    If Republicans want transparency in political donations, let's go for it and include every aspect of campaign contributions. No Exceptions.

    Instead of the this legislature banning gay rights, keeping Indians from voting, legislating dogs, banning street cameras, etc., they could get to the meat of the political problems that rank South Dakota as the number #3 most corrupt state in the union.

    I nominate Stace Nelson to make the first move to reform and make all political contributions transparent. Come on Stace there is a Whereas with HCR____ number waiting for you.

    If Stace takes up my challenge, I promise to vote for him in the primary.

  3. Deb Geelsdottir/ 2014.01.28

    The Shakopee tribe has made life better for thousands and thousands of American Indian people. They've contributed to non-Indian causes too. They are outstanding business people. There are other tribes doing well too.

    Most of the income originally derived from gambling, but they have branched out considerably. The Mille Lacs Ojibways and the Shakopees are investing in Minneapolis and St. Paul businesses, buying hotels, etc. Shakopees have partnered with Canterbury Horse track in the city of Shakopee to raise the purses considerably. The track was in danger of closing till the Shakopees rescued it last year, Bigger purses bring in more horses. The track had a great 2013.

    There are East Coast tribes doing very well. I think the Mohegans in Connecticut are at the top of the wealth list. Those tribes that have the money have been prolific funders for their sisters and brothers in the Indian nation who have not been so fortunate in location to make that kind of money from their casinos.

    Money goes to infrastructure, health issues, education, food, shelter, clothing, voting rights and political strength. They didn't have to watch for long to figure how whites do politics. Money, money, money. They've learned well, and in several instances surpasses the teacher.

    Those American Indian tribes are a sterling example of the Great American Story. They pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. However grudgingly, the door was opened a crack and they went through it at a dead run; no looking back!

  4. Roger Cornelius 2014.01.28

    A number of years ago when John Steele was first elected President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, I was retained by his administration as an adviser on gaming and to do some of initial planning.

    This gave me an opportunity to see how Indian casinos around the country operated and what attributed to their success.

    Of all the travels I made, there was an immediate and close relationship with the Shakopee, they are after all relatives of the Sioux and proud of their connection.

    The Oglalas had two unique disadvantages, first being the rural location of the casino and traffic limited to seasonal tourism and the necessity to bus gamblers.

    The second problem is not one that most tribal around the country have, and that is a sound working relationship with local governments, civic organizations and the state.

    The state leaders in Minnesota and their civic leaders knew that a successful casino operation would not only be good for the tribe, but that they too would be benefactors of the business.

    The state passed laws to ensure that gaming was a success, proper oversight without unrealistic limitations and an opportunity for Minnesota gaming to grow.

    The state knew it would benefit greatly in taxes, civic leaders realized it would be profitable for their hotels, restaurants, transportation and other services.

    The tribe in turns hires not just their own members, but non-Indians from the local community and the Twin Cities.

    I was in awe of the friendship and encouragement Minnesotans have with the Shakopee and vice versa. It is a win win for both.

    It was with regret that I also realized that the state of South Dakota and the Oglalas would likely never have that relationship regardless of a financial windfall for either.

    Sorry for having going so seriously off topic, but in certain way, maybe I have not.

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.01.31

    Wait, Roger: so Minnesota state officials actually support tribal gaming? They cooperate with the tribes? Is there something in white Minnesotans' DNA that got bred out of South Dakotans?

  6. Roger Cornelius 2014.01.31

    Yup Cory, those crazy mixed up Minnesotans actually believe in progress and how to recognize a source of income that is not a tax or fee. Dumb, huh?

  7. Les 2014.01.31

    Are you actually saying gubmint support of gaming in SD died with Bill Janklow?

  8. Les 2014.01.31

    Tribal gaming.

  9. Deb Geelsdottir/ 2014.01.31

    Indian tribes in MN are treated as real sovereign nations, even when it's unpopular.

    The Mille Lacs Ojibway have historic rights to net fish on Lake Mille Lacs. Mille Lacs is a major walleye lake and the number of walleyes are dropping sharply.

    Every year before the fishing season opens, on Mother's Day, the state negotiates with the Mille Lacs band for fish quantities. MN DNR doesn't dictate anything to the Indians. It's a true negotiation of equals. There are always complaint from the whites that it's not fair, the Indians are taking too much and not leaving enough. But the state respects the treaties and the tribes.

    The Shakopee Mdewakaton Tribe is legendary in the Midwest, not only for their economic power, but chiefly for their generosity. Their government is one of the highest functioning in the US. All boats have truly been raised, and not just among the Shakopees, but the city of Shakopee, the state of MN, and the larger area.

    Imagine that kind of respect for the tribes in SD.

  10. Les 2014.02.01

    Respect for their money.
    What does SD have to negotiate besides this argument for voting rights which if true crosses the boundary of Red to poor whites as well.

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