Tribe turning greenbacks from casino into green energy

Turbine blades
Turbine blades lie on the ground near the construction site.
MPR Photo/Rupa Shenoy

This weekend, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community in Scott County plans to complete another initiative in its ongoing effort to build its sovereignty through energy independence.

The tribe is scheduled to finish construction Saturday on a wind turbine that will be as tall as a thirty-eight story building. The turbine will produce most of the energy needed to power the roughly 250 homes on the reservation

With money generated from Mystic Lake Casino, which opened in 1992, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Over have taken on a number of green projects over the past five years. New buildings feature green roofs and solar panels. Other facilities use super-insulation and geothermal technology that draws hot and cool air from the ground.

The tribe's wastewater treatment plant turns solids into fertilizer, and the water is reused for irrigation. Used deep-fryer oil from the reservation's five restaurants is converted into biodiesel and fuels shuttle buses that transport customers around the reservation.

The community also has a majority stake in a new energy plant that burns only organic material from local sources.

These projects, when considered as a whole, put the Mdewakanton Sioux far ahead of the curve. No other city, county, or tribe has put all these green elements into one package.

Tribal administrator Bill Rudnicki says other tribes would like to take the same steps, but many don't have the money to do so.

"Fortunately we're in a situation we can not only move forward with the design and construction of these facilities, but we're also able to fund them in a timely manner," he said.

The green projects also allow the Shakopee Mdewakanton to be good stewards of the land. The tribe traditionally plans seven generations into the future; the reservation is their homeland, and they know their descendents will likely live within the same thirty three hundred acres. So they have to take care of them.

The tribe's land and natural resources director, Stan Ellison, who is overseeing construction of the wind turbine, says it'll help make the Shakopee Mdewakanton community the independent nation it legally is.

"Functionally it's a sovereignty issue for the tribe," he said. "The more self-sustaining the tribe can be the more sovereignty their exercising. They would like to have its own power generated on its own lands."

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