Jul/Aug
2018

TREASURE ISLAND: FROM BINGO HALL TO BIGGEST EMPLOYER IN THE COUNTY

Written by GINA DEWINK Photography By Dawn Sanborn Photography
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LOCALS IN SOUTHERN MINNESOTA ALL SEEM TO KNOW “THE ISLAND IS CALLING.” THE AMAZING SUCCESS OF TREASURE ISLAND RESORT & CASINO CONTINUES TO BLOSSOM AND GROW OUT OF A SAD SACRIFICE IN OUR MINNESOTA HISTORY.

SOVEREIGN NATION BEHIND THE RESORT

The Prairie Island Indian Community owns and operates Treasure Island, which is tucked into the rolling river valley near Red Wing, Minnesota. The tribal members are descendants of the Mdewakanton Band of Eastern Dakota, also known as the Mississippi or Minnesota Sioux. Mdewakanton means “those who were born of the waters.”

In 1862, conflict and violence broke out between the Dakota and white settlers because the Dakota were not receiving payments, supplies or food after selling their land to the government. Without the payments, supplies or food, the Dakota were struggling and starving to death. The Dakota Conflict, as it was later known, resulted in far too many deaths which included 38 Dakota men hanged in Mankato on December 26, 1862, under the order of President Abraham Lincoln.

The United States government officially recognized the Prairie Island Indian Community as a reservation in 1936, 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,” according to Prairieisland.org.

TREASURE ISLAND TRIBAL COUNCIL

“Treasure Island started out as Island Bingo, a 20,000-square-foot bingo hall in 1984. It was so popular, it was only a few years later that gaming was expanded, becoming Treasure Island Resort & Casino. Because of the great sacrifices of our ancestors, we were able to have our compact, or agreement, with the state of Minnesota, signed by the governor,” recalls Shelley Buck, the current Prairie Island Mdewakanton Dakota Tribal Council president.

“Our Tribal Council is similar to a city council,” Buck explains. “It is made up of five individuals voted to a two-year term. We manage and maintain the day-to-day aspects of life for our 1,013 tribal members and all services, as well as our businesses. It is a very busy job! We are historically a matriarch society. Even though they may not have always been out front, they (women) played a vital role, no matter what their title or job.”

FUNDS IMPROVE LIVES TREMENDOUSLY

The tribal community refers to Treasure Island as “the new buffalo” because it restored the tribe’s self-sufficiency, improved life on the reservation, strengthened the tribal government, and helped preserve the Mdewakanton culture. Buck explains, “The revenue from Treasure Island supports our tribal government. It provides what we need to operate our community and provide for our people. It has made us Goodhue County’s largest employer and an important contributor to Minnesota’s economy. And with the recent expansion of our hotel facilities, it made us the second largest hotel property in the entire state of Minnesota.”

With funds provided from Treasure Island Resort & Casino, the tribal members have improved their lives tremendously. “We have created revenue for our social services,” explains Buck. The tribe employs 10 police officers, with four more being hired soon. The funds support an education department offering tutoring and services in Red Wing schools. It also provides roads and parks, land and environment departments–all aspects of a successful sovereign nation.

Buck continues, “If college students of the tribe maintain a C average or better and complete their degree, we provide 100 percent of college tuition costs for them.” The list of services being funded through the resort’s revenue goes on to include 100+ head of buffalo, a fitness center free to all tribal members and employees of Treasure Island, a health clinic and more.

WHAT MAKES THE RESORT SPECIAL

Treasure Island Resort & Casino fulfils its mission to offer something for everyone. “With our mission being to offer a ‘staycation’ for individuals of all ages, we have created a family resort that people want to visit,” says Buck. “Each unit of the family has something to look forward to.”

Treasure Island attractions include concerts, bowling, an event center, a spa, a casino, restaurants, a water park and more. “A few years ago, when we were building the water park to include a 350-foot lazy river, swim-up bar, hot tubs and pool, the spa seemed like a natural amenity to also include. As we aim to be a family resort, we wanted something for parents to enjoy while children played at the water park,” says Buck. “Many brides enjoy the venue because hair, makeup and nails can all be done on-site at the resort,” notes Buck. Events such as weddings, health fairs and expos, elder craft fairs and more are routinely featured within the event center. The Wave Spa offers services such as facials, massages, haircuts and colors, makeup, waxing, manicures and pedicures. If you’re visiting midweek, you can even enjoy a cocktail with your manicure during Martinis & Manicures on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Talking about Treasure Island wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the stream of high-profile entertainers booked each year. Construction on the outdoor amphitheater was completed about a year ago. “It truly made Treasure Island a destination. Our outdoor concerts have been selling out! People love to be outside during the summer,” says Buck.

MUSIC AND ENTERTAINMENT, INDOOR OR OUT

The indoor venue can seat 2,800 while the outdoor amphitheater seats 15-18 thousand people. The popular Weesner Family Amphitheater at the Minnesota Zoo, for comparison, seats around 1,500, and the grandstand at the Minnesota State Fair accommodates 13,000 people, making Treasure Island’s new amphitheater addition a very impressive feat. “After we sold out our Matchbox 20 outdoor concert with somewhere around 14,000 people, we reconfigured the amphitheater to include permanent premium seating complete with cupholders. This brings our new maximum capacity to around 18,000 people per concert,” Buck states proudly.

Treasure Island’s talent booking is a team effort. “We employ an outside entertainment buyer,” Buck explains, “but we bring the casino staff in on the decisions. They really know our clientele, and we love their suggestions. Our Tribal Council also gives suggestions. For instance, we’ve been trying to get Kid Rock to Treasure Island for a while. I’m happy to say we got him this year, and he sold out the amphitheater right away.”

It’s not just the concert goers who leave happy, but also the celebrities performing at Treasure Island. Buck recalls several big names thanking the staff profusely for being such an amazing venue to perform in. “We’ve been pleased to receive word that artists love both the indoor and outdoor venues here. Many have complimented our outstanding hospitality. And that is what we take pride in. What makes Treasure Island so special is our employees—they are the best in the world,” Buck exclaims, “and we wouldn’t be the best without them.”

The resort is also part of the local music scene with Treasure Island’s Parlay Lounge, a popular venue for free entertainment. Minnesota’s top local bands perform every Friday and Saturday night with monthly drink specials and no cover.

PRAIRIE ISLAND POW WOW IN JULY

For other ways to get involved with the “staycation destination,” the tribal community hosts cultural events such as pow wows. A pow wow is a traditional Native American cultural celebration where generations can gather to dance, sing, socialize, renew old friendships and make new ones. Referred to as Wacipi (pronounced "Wa-chee-pee"), the pow wow will take place in July. In the Dakota language, the word “Wacipi” means “they dance.”

Held over the weekend of July 13-15, 2018, Wacipi 2018 will include a singing competition with a grand prize of $20,000, dancing, food vendors, arts and crafts and the chance to be immersed in the Prairie Island Community’s celebration of life. Buck states, “I invite everyone to experience the Wacipi. In keeping with our mission to provide something for everyone, the pow wow is open to the public and completely free to attend. It will take place on sacred ground, just outside of the resort near the bingo hall. Join us because it is invigorating! It offers the chance to enjoy the talent and learn about our culture. Walk around the grounds, taste the frybread, drink lemonade or try your first Indian taco.”

From a solemn moment in southern Minnesota’s wild past to the Mdewakanton’s “new buffalo” growing bigger and better each year, Treasure Island Resort & Casino is a destination with a rich backstory and a happy ending. Make your reservation today…the Island is calling.

Gina Dewink is a writer and author living in Rochester with her husband and two zany children. Her thrilling mystery, Time in My Pocket, is available through Amazon and other book retailers.

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