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Tribes: Prairie Island

Prairie Island logo and map location

The Prairie Island Indian Community is located on an island in the Mississippi River 14 miles north of Red Wing and 30 miles southeast of St. Paul. The tribal headquarters is located near Welch, Minnesota and has members mainly of the Mdewankanton Band.


The Mdewakanton, "those who were born of the waters," have lived on Prairie Island for countless generations. This land, with the wooded shores of the Mississippi and Vermillion Rivers embracing a broad and fruitful prairie, is a spiritual place for our people. The medicine gatherers came here hundreds of years ago and come here still to pick medicines to heal our people, body and spirit. Traditional cultural and spiritual ceremonies are filled with color and dance. The spirit is alive.

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 to buy back small parcels of their ancestral home. In 1936, nearly 50 years later, the federal government officially recognized this area 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 ten 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 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 were 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.

Prairie Island at a Glance

    People (2007)
    More than 700 tribal members (approximately half under 18 years of age)
    Only about half of the tribal membership lives on the reservation (due to limited land base and available housing)
    Tribal members are descendants of the Mdewakanton Band of Eastern Dakota
    Approximately 1,800 acres of trust land (excluding Parcel D)
    Approximately 426 acres of taxable fee land at Mt. Frontenac and 249 acres of fee land at the intersection of Hwy. 61 and Hwy 316
    Located just north of Red Wing, Minn., in Goodhue County
    Located 600 yards from Xcel Energy nuclear power plant and nuclear waste storage site
    On May 12, 2006, President Bush placed into trust Parcel D for the tribe. The 1,290 acres are intended to replace tribal land that was flooded during the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' construction of Lock and Dam Number 3 in Red Wing, Minn. The land is not buildable.
    Prairie Island Development
    The Prairie Island Indian Community employs more than 1,600 people in its gaming, government and business operations, including Treasure Island Resort & Casino, Mount Frontenac Golf and Dakota Station. The federally deputized Prairie Island Police Department – the first licensed police department for the Community – was created in 2003. The department currently employs nine sworn officers, a probation officer and an emergency management coordinator.
    As the largest employer in Goodhue County, Prairie Island generates more than $13 million in annual state and federal taxes. Prairie Island tribal members are subject to many of the same state and federal taxes as everyone else. Most tribal members pay state and federal income taxes, and those who live off the reservation also pay property taxes. Tribal members who live on the reservation pay no property tax because the land they live on is held in trust by the federal government. Tribal members who work directly for the tribal government pay no state income tax for the same reason the state of Minnesota cannot tax employees of the state of Wisconsin. However, these tribal employees pay federal income taxes.
    Tribal Heritage
    The Prairie Island Indian Community is a federally recognized Indian tribe located on the banks of the Mississippi River near Red Wing, Minn. The Community’s ancestors have resided in that area for centuries. They remained there following the Dakota Conflict, despite the fact that their reservation was disestablished by President Lincoln and many Mdewakantons and other Sioux Communities fled the area to avoid federal military retribution, and ended up scattered throughout Minnesota, South and North Dakota, Montana and into Canada. The Community was reorganized in 1936, pursuant to Section 16 of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. The Community is governed by a five-person Tribal Council, which consists of a president, vice president, treasurer, secretary and assistant secretary/treasurer. Tribal Council officials are elected by the members of the Community to two-year terms. Membership into the Prairie Island Indian Community is descendant-based.

More Information

Prairie Island website: