About 18 months ago, I was talking with Steve Date about a series of video reports he was working on for MinnPost. Steve, a full-time Minneapolis school teacher and part-time video journalist, had just returned from a trip to rural Minnesota to shoot video for us about extraordinary young people living outside the Twin Cities. He began describing to me a fascinating experience he had on his trip.
Steve had visited an Indian reservation, talking to adults who work with young people, asking them for examples of high-achieving kids who were preparing for a fulfilling life. He was told there are kids like that on the reservation, but they’re hard to come by. Why? Because, he heard, too many kids in the reservation’s schools were running out the clock, not focused on their school work, just waiting to turn 18, when they would get substantial annual payments from the tribe’s casino profits.
As a teacher, Steve figured it was probably a nightmare to motivate these kids to finish high school, get good grades and aim for challenging jobs. And who would have ever thought gambling money would have this effect? The more we talked, the more we wondered about other influences casino money might be having on Minnesota’s reservations.
We’ve all heard about near-million-dollar payments to members of the tribe that owns and operates Mystic Lake Casino Resort and nearby Little Six Casino. Do all members of the 11 tribes operating the 18 casinos in Minnesota haul in this kind of money? What else are tribes doing with gambling profits? Has casino money helped alleviate any of the persistent social problems on reservations? How have casinos changed the lives of those living on Minnesota’s reservations?
We concluded these were interesting and important questions, worth pursuing. These are also big questions that would require a lot of reporting to answer. So MinnPost asked Sharon Schmickle, a veteran journalist who covered pre-casino life on Minnesota’s reservations for years at the Star Tribune, to work with Steve to begin searching for answers. For months, they toured the state, visited reservations, talked to tribal leaders and others, and saw for themselves the consequences — intended and unintended — of casinos on reservations.
Today, we begin a five-day series of reports — articles, videos, photographs and graphics — describing what they found. We think it’s a substantive and honest account of what has happened since gambling came to Minnesota’s reservations 20 years ago. The first installment is here.