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By Amanda Wigen, Friends of the Falls | March 2, 2023

This editorial was featured in the March 2023 edition of the alley.

Friends of the Falls, a non-profit working to transform the site adjacent to the Upper Lock on Minneapolis’ central Mississippi riverfront, made headlines on February 3 when it announced that retiring president Mark Andrew would be succeeded by Shelley Buck. Shelley is currently serving her sixth term on Prairie Island Tribal Council and serves as a board member of the Minnesota Wild Foundation, Great River Passage Conservancy, and Lower Phalen Creek Project. She has been a part of the project since late 2020 as a valued member of The Falls Initiative’s Native Partnership Council.

Under Shelley’s leadership, the organization is now Native-led and has a majority Native American board of directors.“Owámniyomni (St. Anthony Falls) and Wita Wanagi (Spirit Island) were desecrated like so many of our sacred sites. For Friends of the Falls to name a Bdewákaŋtuŋwaŋ (Mdewákaŋtoŋ) Dakota – and in particular a Dakota wíŋyaŋ (woman) – as its next leader, is not a symbolic gesture. It puts Dakota voices rightfully in the lead. The River is our relative; we follow her lead,” said Buck.

Friends of the Falls convened the Native Partnership Council in partnership with the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI) and CDA Enterprises to hear stories and gain understanding about Owámniyomni (St. Anthony Falls) from Indigenous perspectives. It is the core component of the organization’s community engagement framework that centers Native voices. The Council developed a vision statement that calls for restored connections to the river, honoring Dakota culture and language, and ongoing care for the land and water.

Shelley says her vision for the future of the site is one of healing, connecting/reconnecting, educating, and community building. Furthermore, “in the second season of this project, we will assess different ownership models. It’s our desire to involve Dakota tribal nations in that discussion, to get their input in shaping the vision for the site, and to strengthen their role in the project going forward.”Early design ideas were also released for the project site at Owámniyomni (St. Anthony Falls). The drawings depict gathering places for ceremony and healing, places to connect physically with the river, and interpretive signage along winding pathways to educate people about the historical, cultural, and spiritual significance of the area to the Dakota people. The drawings do not represent final designs, and the ideas will evolve based on Dakota tribal leaders’ input and direction.

Ground view of an early design draft of the project site at Owámniyomni, St. Anthony Falls. Image Credit: GGN