Stanley Crooks, the chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, died on Saturday, according to the tribe. He was 70 years old.
For 20 years, Crooks led what has become one of the nation's wealthiest tribes -- a result of profits from the Mystic Lake Casino.
Crooks was known as a generous leader of his tribe, a savvy businessman as well as a strong defender of sovereignty rights for much of the Indian community.
According to the tribe, Crooks died Saturday morning of natural causes. Those who knew him say that over the last year, he struggled with heart and lung ailments.
Crooks led the tribe for more than 20 years and had been elected to another four-year term in January.
John McCarthy, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, worked closely with Crooks.
"He had a passion for his people, and all Indian people," McCarthy said. "He was soft-spoken. You could be in a room with him and 10 other people, and you'd never know that he was chairman and such a powerful individual."
McCarthy says Crooks took over a gambling legacy in Prior Lake built by his father, Norman Crooks. That generated other successful business ventures and helped make the tribe's nearly 500 members wealthy.
"Obviously, because of their location - adjacent to the Twin Cities - they had a great opportunity," McCarthy said. "And he took advantage of that opportunity and moved it forward."
In addition to bringing incredible wealth to tribal members, under Crooks' leadership the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community gave away hundreds of millions of dollars. According to the tribe, since 1996 it has donated about $243 million to tribes and other charities. It has also provided about $450 million in economic development loans.
Chairman Kevin Leecy leads the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa at Nett Lake and at Lake Vermilion. He says that under Crooks, the Sioux Community provided money for a new government center and health clinic, among other projects.
"They ... also helped with the purchase of some land near Ely, Minn., which we put under protection (to) protect grave sites of my ancestors up there ... And not just us, for an example. But those examples are all across Indian Country, and not only Indian Country, but I think other non-Indians benefited, too."
In a statement, House Speaker Kurt Zellers called Crooks a "remarkable and wise leader who did an enormous amount of good in his life, not only for his own tribe but for many people all across the Midwest."
In an interview earlier this month with Minnesota Public Radio, Crooks discussed the future of his tribe.
"Certainly, we want to try and protect seven generations, that's my job," he said. "Then the next generation, that's their job. And that's how you continue it on. And we have to instill that into our young people so that when they get into leadership positions they continue to do this."
The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community said the leadership transition is clear: Vice Chairman Charlie Vig will become the next chairman.
Funeral services for Crooks are pending.
EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story misstated the location of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa. The current version is correct.