Prairie Island Indian Community History

Although the rich tribal heritage lives on, an unfortunate series of historical events contributed to great suffering – primarily from the impact of European settlers and the subsequent imposition of government treaties. Many families were faced with countless injustices, forced into poverty, war and imprisonment, and eventually evicted from the Prairie Island territory.

However, hope inspired some families to return to Prairie Island and buy back small parcels of their ancestral home. In 1936, nearly 50 years later, the federal government officially recognized the Prairie Island Indian Community as a reservation, awarding them 534 acres. Although poverty was still prevalent, the culture of home was redefining itself. The seeds of self-sufficiency were once again being planted in these sacred grounds.

Economic revival began taking root in 1984 when Treasure Island Bingo opened, and subsequently in 1988 when gaming was expanded – known today as Treasure Island Resort & Casino.

How the Prairie Island Indian Community Came to Be

Prairie Island Indian Community Members are descendents of the Mdewakanton Band of Eastern Dakota, also known as the Mississippi or Minnesota Sioux, who were parties to treaties with the United States from 1805 to 1863.

In the treaty of Oct. 15, 1851, the Tribe ceded much of their Minnesota lands to the U.S. government, keeping for themselves a 10-mile-wide strip of land on either side of the Minnesota River from Little Rock to Yellow Medicine River. However, the Treaty of June 19, 1858, allotted this land in 80-acre plots to each family head. The surplus land was sold for 10 cents an acre. Reduced to starvation, the Dakota were forced to fight for their survival.

In August 1862, fighting erupted between the Dakota and white settlers because the Dakota were not receiving annuity payments for selling their lands and were struggling to survive. This was known as the Dakota Conflict, resulting in the deaths of many Dakota and whites. Thirty-eight Dakota were hanged in Mankato in December 1862 upon the order of President Abraham Lincoln.

The Creation of the Prairie Island Reservation

The Prairie Island reservation was created when the Secretary of the Interior purchased land and placed it into trust. About 120 acres was purchased at Prairie Island for the landless Mdewakanton residing in Minnesota on May 20, 1886. Subsequent purchases by the secretary under congressional appropriations, and later the Indian Reorganization Act, expanded the reservation’s borders. Under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, an additional 414 acres was purchased for other Indian residents whose names appeared on the Minnesota Sioux rolls.

The Tribe has a limited land base. In 1938, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built Lock and Dam Number 3, which flooded Community land including burial mounds and created a larger floodplain, leaving the Tribe with only 300 livable acres. More recently, in 1973, Xcel Energy (formerly known as Northern States Power Company) began operating a nuclear power generating plant on the island and now stores spent nuclear fuel in dry cask storage containers only three blocks from the community.