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By Mathew Holding Eagle III, MPR News

The nonprofit Owámniyomni Okhódayapi — formerly Friends of the Falls — celebrated the announcement of a $2.6 million community innovation grant awarded by the Bush Foundation.

The announcement came at a dinner Wednesday during the annual Native Americans in Philanthropy Conference in Minneapolis.

Over the next two years, the funds will go toward developing a new model of land reclamation under multitribal control in Minneapolis. Owámniyomni Okhódayapi’s president, Shelley Buck said they intend to restore 5 acres of the former Upper Lock site, also known as St. Anthony Falls, to create a place of education, healing and connection.

“This site is really significant to the Dakota people. And it’s also significant to the city of Minneapolis since it’s basically the birthplace of Minneapolis, it’s right along the riverfront there. So, it’s really an iconic site for both Native and non-Native people,” Buck said. “It’s a good area for us to really highlight the importance of that site, precontact and pre-industrialization, and really educate people about a history that they didn’t know about.”

The Bush Foundation’s Mattie Harper DeCarlo is a grantmaking officer with a focus on Native nations.

“This land at Owámniyomni [St. Anthony Falls] has great cultural and historical significance to not only Indigenous peoples but to Minnesota state history. We think a lot of people from all over the region are going to be interested in this work and drawn to the space and that it can be a space where people from all over can learn about Indigenous history,” DeCarlo said. “In that way it can strengthen tribal sovereignty and could have transformative impact across our region.”

Currently the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers controls the land but in the future that may change. Owámniyomni Okhódayapi’s long-term goal is to have the state’s four Dakota tribes take ownership of the site.

Buck said the nonprofit already has three of the four tribes represented on its board with the hope of adding the fourth by the end of the year.  She also added they have representatives embedded within other communities. Many who have written letters of support and resolutions of support for Owámniyomni Okhódayapi to take control of the site for them.

“I appreciate everyone’s support and I can’t thank everyone enough for continuing to support us and be just as excited about the possibilities here as we are at Owámniyomni Okhódayapi,” Buck said.

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