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Friends of the Falls releases first season report

MINNEAPOLIS (October 9, 2023) —

Two years ago, Friends of the Falls and the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI) came together as partners with the mission of authentically centering Native voices to create a shared vision for the Upper Lock, which today sits at the heart of Owámniyomni.

At Saturday’s Owamni Falling Water Festival, we were pleased to publicly release the First Season Report documenting our work during the first season of The Falls Initiative (Sept 2021- Dec 2022). The four-part document conveys the thoughtful engagement process crafted by Friends of the Falls, NACDI, and Carrie Day Aspinwall of CDA Enterprises to ground the project in Indigenous values and bring Native and non-Native communities together. This first season of work might be considered “winter”, a time for connection, storytelling, and preparation for what’s to come.

“This project is about reconnecting people to the River, and to do that we needed to take time to understand the varied and complex relationships people have to the River,” said Robert Lilligren, president and CEO of NACDI. “There seemed to be a shared understanding that by caring for land and water, we can begin to heal the broken bonds of our communities.”

Carrie Day Aspinwall, facilitator of the Native Partnership Council, shared:“Our approach was fundamentally different from other public engagement processes. The Native Partnership Council, composed of Tribal leaders, environmentalists, artists, culture keepers and spiritual leaders, helped shape the engagement framework itself, and as a result, we were able to keep Native voices and values at the center of the conversation. The vision for Owámniyomni will evolve and grow over time. What we’ve built so far is a place to continue the conversation.”

We are now in the second season of work for The Falls Initiative, and we move closer to implementation. We are considering models of ownership and operations and the technical considerations for transferring land from the federal government to local control. We’ve invited Mni Sota Dakota tribal leaders to lead this discussion and share their vision for this place.

“The stories and early design ideas shared in the first season of work provide a strong foundation for how we can honor Owámniyomni, Wíta Wanáǧi (Spirit Island), and our Mother– the River. From here, we follow Her lead. Voices of the Dakota will shape what happens at this place in the future,” said Shelley Buck, President, Friends of the Falls.

Part 1 details our process to convene the Native Partnership Council, the stories they shared, and their direction for the project. Part 2 describes the public events, online engagement tools, and outreach to key stakeholders that weaved broader community voices into the Council’s vision. Part 3 outlines the work of GGN landscape architects to listen and learn from the Native Partnership Council and thoughtfully reflect their guidance in illustrations and early design ideas for the site. Part 4 by Interboro Partners , with partners MIGIZI and Division of Indian Work, begins to consider programs and partnerships that could activate and enliven this place.