Shakopee Mdewakanton gifts $1 million to University of Minnesota for work to advance Indian nutritional health

The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) announced today its $1 million donation to the University of Minnesota to fund three major projects relating to nutritional health in Indian Country. The gift is being made under the tribe’s Seeds of Native Health campaign to improve Native American nutrition nationwide, in which the university is a strategic partner.


The three groundbreaking projects will make major contributions in the fields of nutritional science, public health, and food production:

  • A series of annual national conferences focused exclusively on Native American nutrition and food access, to be jointly convened by the university and the SMSC. The inaugural conference will be held in spring 2016 in the Twin Cities. Conference planning and management will be led by Mindy S. Kurzer, director of the university’s Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives Institute and professor in the College of Food Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences and the Medical School.
  • A publicly accessible, comprehensive, multi-disciplinary bibliography relating to Native American nutrition and a publicly accessible, searchable database of leading experts in relevant fields. The SMSC’s gift will fund the development and public launch of the two database while the university will seek additional funding for the later, ongoing maintenance of the databases. The work will be led by Michelle Johnson-Jennings, director of the Research for Indigenous Community Health (RICH) Center in the College of Pharmacy, with the assistance of the School of Public Health.
  • A study analyzing the obstacles between Western academic research and Native American traditional knowledge and experience relating to food and nutrition. The study will address the benefits of more respectful cultural exchanges between Native American practitioners and agricultural, biomedical, and dietary researchers. The study will explore culturally specific approaches to education, curricula and research in these fields. It will be led by Craig A. Hassel, a professor of Food Science and Nutrition in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resources Sciences, and a University of Minnesota Extension nutritionist.

When the Seeds of Native Health campaign was first announced, the tribe and university leaders had identified general areas of collaboration. The projects announced today are the culmination of months of careful study and planning.

“The SMSC has shown extraordinary leadership in raising awareness and providing the resources and vision to make a major contribution toward improving Native health and food access,” said Dean Brian Buhr, University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resources Sciences. “Only a visionary benefactor like the SMSC is in the position to give life to the critical projects we are working on.”

“The University of Minnesota is a world-class research and teaching institution in the fields of agriculture, food science, nutrition, and public health,” said SMSC Chairman Charlie Vig. “We are fortunate to have them in our own backyard and as one of our closest partners in this important effort to improve the health of Native peoples.”

The SMSC and the University of Minnesota have benefited from a longstanding relationship. In 2008, the SMSC established a $2.5 million endowed scholarship fund at the university to help educate the next generation of Native American leaders. Nearly 200 Native American students have received an SMSC Endowed Scholarship over the past seven years. The tribe also contributed $10 million to build TCF Bank Stadium and the adjoining Tribal Nations Plaza, an enduring symbol of the significance of Minnesota’s 11 Native American tribes.

About the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community
The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community is a federally recognized, sovereign Indian tribe located southwest of Minneapolis/St. Paul. With a focus on being a good neighbor, good steward of the earth, and good employer, the SMSC is committed to charitable donations, community partnerships, a healthy environment, and a strong economy. The SMSC and the SMSC Gaming Enterprise (Mystic Lake Casino Hotel and Little Six Casino) are the largest employer in Scott County. Out of a Dakota tradition to help others, the SMSC has donated more than $325 million to organizations and causes since opening the Gaming Enterprise in the 1990s and has contributed millions more to regional governments and infrastructure such as roads, water and sewer systems, and emergency services.

About the University of Minnesota
Founded in 1851, the University of Minnesota is ranked among the nation’s top public research universities. As a land-grant institution, the U of M is committed to engaging Minnesota, national and global communities to advance interdisciplinary knowledge; enhance students’ academic, civic, career, social and personal development; and apply intellectual and human capital to serve the public good.