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About

The Place

Many people raised in Minnesota are familiar with “St. Anthony Falls,” a name given by Father Hennepin to describe the place where the Mississippi River once cascaded over a 50-foot limestone drop. Far fewer know the deeper history of this site – a history that has not just been ignored but in many cases actively silenced or erased.

The Dakota view Ȟaȟa Wakpá (Mississippi River) to be a living relative that provides abundance and connects us to our ancestors. Bdote, where the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers meet, is at the heart of the Dakota origin story. It is one of the places where Dakota people came into human form from the water. The Bdote area is the center of the world, or maká čokáya kiŋ. Water connects it physically and spiritually to Mni Owe Sni (Coldwater Spring), Owámniyomni (St. Anthony Falls), Wakaŋ Tipi (Carver’s Cave), and other sites sacred to Dakota people.

Dakota people came to Owámniyomni, or “turbulent waters,” for ceremony, and to Wíta Wanáǧi, Spirit Island, an island oasis in the mist kicked up from the falling water, to give birth. This was – and is – a place of gathering, trade, and offerings. It is a place where the physical and spiritual worlds blend, and where, through Dakota oral history, we learn about interactions with Uŋktéȟi (Water Being or Water Monster). These stories, told from an Indigenous perspective, were rendered invisible for generations.

As westward expansion advanced and soldiers and settlers systematically displaced Indigenous people, Owámniyomni drew a different kind of attention. Industrialists saw the River as a resource to be extracted. The Falls became a catalyst for lumber and flour milling, and ultimately it became one of the most heavily geo-engineered sites in the region.

Owámniyomni was once over 1,250 feet wide. Today it is approximately a third of that size, held in place by a concrete apron and dam. The living River ecosystem was biologically diminished, and Wíta Wanáǧi was mined for limestone to build the booming Mill City. The narrow jetty south of the Upper Lock is believed to be all that physically remains of Spirit Island today.

To Native people, these activities were a desecration, incompatible with a world view in which the River is a spirit and a mother, and in which all living natural things are our relatives.

With colonization came a cycle of systematic oppression, displacement, and genocide, including the imprisonment of Dakota people at Fort Snelling and the force abduction of Indigenous children to attend Christian- and government-run boarding schools. Indigenous communities were torn apart, separated from the River, their relatives, culture, language, and history.

Native communities are still fighting to resurrect and protect their culture, language, and history. We can help restore this story disrupted. We must protect places like Owámniyomni and Wíta Wanáǧi and recognize them as cultural treasures.

The Project

The Upper Lock was constructed in 1959 and allowed commercial barges to navigate over the Falls, upriver to Upper Harbor Terminal. For more than 60 years, this iconic site on Minneapolis’s Central Riverfront has been fenced off with limited public access. The site is a barrier, not a gateway, to the River.

The Lock closed to commercial navigation in 2015 to halt the upriver spread of invasive carp. The Falls Initiative is an opportunity to transform 5-acres of land adjacent to the Upper Lock into a place of healing, restoration, education, and connection. We can uplift Dakota voices and tell the stories that have been for silenced for generations.

Project Timeline

The Upper Lock and the land around it is currently owned by the federal government via the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Since 2016, Owámniyomni Okhódayapi (formerly Friends of the Falls) and the City of Minneapolis have advocated for the transfer of land to public control through legislative action. We have also worked to prevent hydropower companies from securing the site to transform it into a power station.

We’ve come to see the evolution of The Falls Initiative not in traditional development phases, but rather seasons of transformation.

First Season

Engagement that centers Native voices.

2016-2022

Second Season

Developing a framework for Dakota leadership.

2023-2025

Third Season

Transformation through cultural & environmental restoration.

2026-2027

Fourth Season

Connecting and healing with all our relatives.

2028+

In what we call the First Season of work (2016-2022), we convened community members to create a shared vision for the Falls. We worked to ground ourselves and the project in Indigenous values and practices. The first season might be considered “winter”, a time for connection, storytelling, and preparation for what’s to come.

We are currently in the Second Season of work (2023-2025). In this “spring” season, as the flora and fauna come alive again, we move closer to implementation and consider models of ownership and operations.

In 2023, Owámniyomni Okhódayapi convened the Dakota Tribal Nations in Mní Sóta – the Mdewankanton (Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community), Pezihutazizi (Upper Sioux Community), Cansa’yapi (Lower Sioux Indian Community), and Tinta Wita (Prairie Island Indian Community) –  to consider future ownership of the 5-acre site.

We structured a process in which Owámniyomni Okhódayapi and the City of Minneapolis would facilitate the direction dictated by Tribal leadership and honor the Nations’ inherent sovereignty. We provided staff and resources to help assess various ownership structures, project capital and operating costs, and offset risks.

Our long term goal is for the site to be Tribally-owned, but no matter how the ownership question is resolved, the project will be Dakota-led and focused on Native history and culture.

The Third Season (2026-2027) will be focused on transforming the site through cultural and environmental restoration. Early design ideas include restoring Indigenous landscapes and the active flow of water through the site. The design will be finalized in 2024 under Dakota leadership. Owámniyomni Okhódayapi will pursue a combination of public and private funding to support capital costs and create an endowment.

The Fourth Season (2028+) refers to the ongoing life of the Falls. We hope to create a place where Native and non-Native people feel welcome; where Dakota history, language, and culture are visible and celebrated; and where communities can come together to heal. Done right, this process can provide a model for how non-profits, municipalities, and other entities can respectfully partner with Tribal Nations and honor their inherent sovereignty.

Milestones

2023
Shelley Buck Named President
Shelley Buck Named President

Shelley Buck, an enrolled member of the Prairie Island Indian Community, is named president of Friends of the Falls. Buck served 12 years on the Prairie Island Tribal Council, including six years as president. Shelley was also a member of The Falls Initiative Native Partnership Council.

Retirement of Founding President Mark Andrew
Retirement of Founding President Mark Andrew

Friends of the Falls founding president Mark Andrew retires. Under Andrew’s leadership, the Friends initiated the transfer of property from federal to local control, established partnerships with the City and Park Board, built relationships with Native communities, and developed early design ideas for the Falls.

Early Design Ideas Released
Early Design Ideas Released

Friends of the Falls and NACDI share early design ideas, drawn by GGN and VJAA. The ideas respond to the Native Partnership Council’s vision for the site & launch community engagement Phase 6: Respond.

Partnership Council Releases Vision Statement
Partnership Council Releases Vision Statement

The Native Partnership Council authors a vision statement for The Falls Initiative, encompassing the complete first season of work (September 2021-September 2022) and community engagement to date.

2022
Community & Partnership Council Feedback Weaved Together in Phase 5: Align
Community & Partnership Council Feedback Weaved Together in Phase 5: Align

Through Community Conversations, pop-up engagement opportunities, and interactive surveys, we weaved together stories and feedback from the Native Partnership Council and broader public. This process of alignment led to the development of early design ideas for the site.

Presentation at National Planning Conference
Presentation at National Planning Conference

In May 2022, members of The Falls Initiative leadership team presented at the American Planning Association National Planning Conference. The session titled “Falls Initiative: Growth and Healing through Indigenous Leadership” considered strategies for how to build bridges between tribes and communities, and how to re-envision aging federal infrastructure.

MOU with City of Minneapolis
MOU with City of Minneapolis

The City Council and Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board approved a memorandum of understanding between the City of Minneapolis and Friends of the Falls, establishing the Friends as the City’s agent in negotiations with the Army Corps about transfer of property. The MOU also framed the remaining engagement process.

Friends of the Falls and NACDI launch Phase 4 of engagement
Friends of the Falls and NACDI launch Phase 4 of engagement

In Phase 4, the groundwork and priorities set by the Native Partnership Council frame discussions with the broader public. The ‘Engage’ phase features a series of public Community Conversations and digital engagement opportunities.

2021
2021 American Indian Tourism Conference
2021 American Indian Tourism Conference

Members of the engagement team attended the 2021 American Indian Tourism Conference, an annual event of the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association, and identified models for partnerships, funding and economic development.

NACDI and the Friends convene Native Partnership Council and host Ki Ceremony
NACDI and the Friends convene Native Partnership Council and host Ki Ceremony

With support of Tribal leadership, NACDI and Friends of the Falls formed a Native Partnership Council to steer the planning process and shape priorities from an Indigenous perspective. The initial meeting was held in the form of a Ki Ceremony. ‘Ki’ means ‘to arrive back to where one started, to return’ in the Dakota language.

Confirmation of $2.8M in LCCMR funding for early enhancements
Confirmation of $2.8M in LCCMR funding for early enhancements

The Minnesota Legislature’s Omnibus Environment Bill of June 2021 approved $2.8 million from the Environment & Natural Resources Trust Fund to support early enhancements on the site. The funds were matched with $2.5 million in private funds provided by Friends of the Falls.

City of Minneapolis requests Goverment to Goverment consultation
City of Minneapolis requests Goverment to Goverment consultation

The City of Minneapolis, represented by Mayor Frey and Ward 3 Council Member Steve Fletcher, with NACDI and FOF, participated in a Government to Government consultation with elected Mni Sota Dakota leaders. The City requested to consult directly with Tribal leadership in the process to determine the future of the site. Importantly, Native leaders were asked how they would like to be engaged.

Phase 3: Grounding added to engagement timeline
Phase 3: Grounding added to engagement timeline

Friends of the Falls and NACDI amended the initial engagement timeline in response to feedback from Native American leaders. The new ‘Grounding’ phase would make space for more meaningful relationship building and time to establish trust with Tribal Nations and Native communities. Early concepts and visualizations of the project were set aside to allow for creation of a new, shared vision for the site.

2020
Water Resources Development Act of 2020
Water Resources Development Act of 2020

In the Water Resources Development Act of 2020, Congress authorizes conveyance of the property adjacent to and surrounding the Upper Lock to the City of Minneapolis or its designee, for use in the public interest.

Release of USACE Disposition Study draft report
Release of USACE Disposition Study draft report

The USACE released its Disposition Study draft report for the Upper Lock and opened a 60-day public comment period. The USACE’s recommendation was for complete deauthorization and disposal with a monetary incentive to the new owner – or full disposal – of the Upper Lock.

Friends of the Falls & NACDI form partnership
Friends of the Falls & NACDI form partnership

Supported by a grant from the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Board, Friends of the Falls contracted with the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI) to train its board on Native American history and law, and to guide outreach and relationship building for The Falls Initiative with Tribal Nations and the Native community.

Friends of the Falls launched Phase 2 of public engagement
Friends of the Falls launched Phase 2 of public engagement

In Phase 2, ‘Inform & Connect’, the team worked to build trust and cultivate relationships with the Native community and Tribal nations. We also engaged with neighborhood associations and organizations to brief community members on the disposition study and efforts to center the project on Native voices. Most engagement was conducted virtually due to COVID-19.

Friends of the Lock & Dam becomes Friends of the Falls
Friends of the Lock & Dam becomes Friends of the Falls

Friends of the Lock & Dam transitioned to become Friends of the Falls, reflecting its value for the natural Falls over the built environment and the organization’s interest in enhancing the greater region.

2019
Upper Lock disposition study launched by US Army Corps of Engineers
Upper Lock disposition study launched by US Army Corps of Engineers

The Upper Lock disposition study was launched by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Public meetings were held, and a comment period was opened through October 2019. The USACE’s draft report and disposition recommendations were released in December 2020.

Fourth coalition meeting convened
Fourth coalition meeting convened

After four coalition meetings, participants voiced support for: Creating an iconic civic and cultural destination; ensuring public access to the Upper Lock and the water; sharing stories and knowledge, particularly about Native American culture and perspectives; providing a unified experience along the riverfront; and, developing a sustainable operating model for the project.

The Falls Initiative tentatively selected for $2.8M in funding from LCCMR
The Falls Initiative tentatively selected for $2.8M in funding from LCCMR

Friends of the Lock & Dam, now Friends of the Falls, applied and was tentatively selected for $2.8 million in funding from the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) for early enhancements at the Lock.

Senators direct USACE to coordinate with City of Minneapolis
Senators direct USACE to coordinate with City of Minneapolis

Senators Klobuchar and Smith send a letter of Congressional intent directing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to coordinate with the City of Minneapolis and its partners.

2018
WRDA expedites & expands scope of disposition study
WRDA expedites & expands scope of disposition study

Congress enacted the 2018 Water Resources Development Act, Section 1225, directing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expedite a study looking exclusively at the Upper Lock and to expand the scope of the study to include consideration of partial disposition. The Lower Lock and Lock 1 will presumably be studied at a later date. The revised and expedited Upper Lock study kicked off in August 2019.

Stakeholders briefed on disposition study process at third coalition meeting
Stakeholders briefed on disposition study process at third coalition meeting

Friends of the Lock & Dam, now Friends of the Falls, convened a third coalition meeting, which included briefings on the federal disposition study process and the 2018 Water Resources Development Act.

Senators introduce bill appropriating funds for Upper Lock redevelopment
Senators introduce bill appropriating funds for Upper Lock redevelopment

Senators Champion, Hayden, and Dziedzic introduced S.F. No. 2707: A bill for an act relating to capital investment; appropriating money for Upper St. Anthony Lock redevelopment; authorizing the sale and issuance of state bonds. The bill was referred to the Committee on Capital Investment. The bill did not succeed.

2017
Coalition members defined priorities for The Falls Initiative
Coalition members defined priorities for The Falls Initiative

Friends of the Falls, now Friends of the Falls, convened a second meeting of stakeholders. The poster session and workshop was attended by 48 people representing 21 organizations and 4 government entities.

Army Corps of Engineers to conduct disposition study on three Mississippi Locks
Army Corps of Engineers to conduct disposition study on three Mississippi Locks

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made the determination to fund and undertake an 18-month disposition study on the Upper Lock, Lower Lock, and Lock 1, to begin Spring 2018. The study was later paused after the 2018 Water Resources Development Act directed the Corps to expedite a study looking exclusively at the Upper Lock.

City Council passes resolution to request $1.5M in state funding for Lock predesign
City Council passes resolution to request $1.5M in state funding for Lock predesign

Minneapolis City Council passed a resolution to include Upper St. Anthony Falls Redevelopment to the City’s state bonding priority list, asking for $1.5 million for predesign. The City of Minneapolis was a cost sharing partner with the U.S. Corps of Engineers in the development of the initial civil works project, having contributed not only dollars, dredging rights, and land, but also making adjustments to 12 bridges along the navigation corridor.

Friends of the Lock & Dam launched Phase 1 of engagement
Friends of the Lock & Dam launched Phase 1 of engagement

Friends of the Lock & Dam, now Friends of the Falls, launched Phase 1 of engagement, ‘Coalition Building’, in 2016. The first meeting of stakeholders was hosted in June 2017, attended by 48 people representing 20 organizations and 5 government entities. Stakeholders agreed the site must not be privatized or turned into a hydropower facility; the site should be redeveloped in the public interest and accessible to all.

MPRB passes resolution supporting predesign for Lock visitor center
MPRB passes resolution supporting predesign for Lock visitor center

Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board passed resolution 2017-201 committing its support and collaboration in seeking state bonds for predesign for a visitor center at the Upper Lock. The Lock abuts Water Works Park and Mill Ruins Park, both owned by the Park Board. Friends of the Falls advocates for seamless connectivity between Water Works Park and the project site, allowing visitors to experience the Falls as one cohesive destination.

Meet Minneapolis adopts ‘Destination Transformation 2030’
Meet Minneapolis adopts ‘Destination Transformation 2030’

Meet Minneapolis adopted ‘Destination Transformation 2030’, the first tourism master plan for the City of Minneapolis and region, which lists as one of its top level goals: “Build an iconic visitors center on downtown’s central riverfront.” The plan builds on 15 years of planning and implementation by the City of Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board, Minneapolis Park Foundation, St. Anthony Heritage Board, Minneapolis Downtown Council, and numerous neighborhoods to transform the Mississippi riverfront.

2016
Mississippi Park Connection activates the Lock
Mississippi Park Connection activates the Lock

Nonprofit partner of the National Park Service, Mississippi Park Connection, undertook additional programming and activation on the Lock with grant funding from Friends of the Lock & Dam, now Friends of the Falls.

NPCA releases ‘Transforming the Lock’ Idea Book
NPCA releases ‘Transforming the Lock’ Idea Book

National Parks Conservation Association created an Ideas Book, “Transforming the Lock,” placing the goal of a significant ongoing National Park Visitor Center on the Lock at the center of the vision.

NPS Operates Falls Visitor Center & Conducts Tours
NPS Operates Falls Visitor Center & Conducts Tours

The National Park Service secured a use permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to operate the St. Anthony Falls Visitor Center at the Lock and conduct public tours.

Founding of Friends of the Lock & Dam
Founding of Friends of the Lock & Dam

Friends of the Lock & Dam, now Friends of the Falls, was founded as a 501(c)3 public nonprofit with a mission to “repurpose the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock to a world class destination visitor and interpretive center, consistent with the ‘Central Riverfront Regional Park Master Plan’ and fully integrated with the RiverFirst/WaterWorks Initiative.” The organization raised $5 million dollars in 2016 in support of the mission.

2015
Upper Lock Closed to Commercial Navigation
Upper Lock Closed to Commercial Navigation

The Upper Lock at St. Anthony Falls was closed to commercial navigation through an act of Congress in response to declining barge traffic and concerns about invasive species. Authorization for flood management remained active, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continued to maintain and staff the facility. The site has remained fenced, and the river is inaccessible to the public.

MPRB Adopts Riverfront Master Plan
MPRB Adopts Riverfront Master Plan

Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board adopts ‘Central Mississippi Riverfront Regional Park Master Plan’, the first adopted plan recommending a visitor center at the Upper Lock.

Collective Impact

This reimagined, Indigenous-led project is not occurring in isolation but is connected in spirit, process, and intent with a network of projects that collectively help us better understand our complex past and make our future more inclusive and equitable.

Wakaŋ Tipi Awaŋyaŋkapi, Bdote (Ft. Snelling Revitalization), Indian Mounds Regional Park, River Learning Center, and others, are similarly concerned with elevating Native stories and Indigenous perspectives.

Each project is valuable alone, but taken together they represent a much larger gesture that will place the Twin Cities within the national conversation about Indigenous rights and truth and reconciliation.

Owámniyomni is located within the Mississippi National River Recreation Area, our river National Park and is a feature of the 10-state Great River Road, a National Scenic Byway.

Graphic by GGN, in collaboration with Full Circle Indigenous Planning.

Adopted Plans

There are several adopted plans that anticipated the transformation of this site and the broader Riverfront. They envision restored access to the River and, in some cases, creating a visitor center at the Lock. Those plans include the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Board’s Changing Relationships to the Power of the Falls (2014), Minneapolis Downtown Council’s Intersections: Downtown 2025 (2011); Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board’s Central Riverfront Regional Parks Master Plan (2016); Meet Minneapolis’ Destination Transformation 2030 (2016); and the National Parks Conservation Association’s Transforming the Lock (2016). The Falls Initiative was also developed in the context of Minneapolis 2040 (2019), the City’s comprehensive plan, and the Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area Plan (1979, most recently updated in 2017).

The People

Owámniyomni Okhódayapi is a Dakota-led non-profit creating a future where Dakota culture has a vital presence and Dakota values – such as mni wičóni, or water is life – are embedded into our communal existence. We are currently working to transform five acres of land at Owámniyomni (St. Anthony Falls) into a place of restoration, education, healing and connection.

Owámniyomni means “turbulent waters” in the Dakota language. Okhódaya translates to “to be friends with, to be friendly, or to befriend.” The words are pronounced: Oh-WAH-mini-yo-mini Oh-KOH-dah-yah-pee.

Our work is grounded in the following principles:

  • This is Dakota homeland. Owámniyomni (St. Anthony Falls) and Wíta Wanáǧi (Spirit Island) are central to Dakota culture and were desecrated through industrialization and colonization.
  • We implement the vision of the four Dakota Tribes in Mni Sota – the Shakopee Mdewakanton (Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community), Tinta Wita (Prairie Island Indian Community), Cansa’yapi (Lower Sioux Indian Community), and Peżihutazizi (Upper Sioux Community).
  • Dakota people have been actively erased from Owámniyomni, the Twin Cities, and their broader homelands. We center Dakota voices, strengthen connections to Dakota relatives, and uplift the actively silenced stories of all Dakota people.
  • Our work is grounded in Indigenous values, like Mitákuye Owas’iƞ (We Are All Relatives) and Mní Wičóni (Water is Life).

The organization was founded in 2016 by Paul Reyelts and Mark Wilson in response to the closure of the Upper Lock to commercial navigation. The organization was originally called the St. Anthony Falls Lock & Dam Conservancy and soon renamed to Friends of the Lock & Dam. Its focus was to prevent hydropower interests from further industrializing the site. The Friends convened community, business, and civic leaders to discuss creating a visitor center to increase tourism on the River.

In 2020, the organization transitioned to the name Friends of the Falls to emphasize that its mission was to protect and honor the Falls – the only major waterfall on the Mississippi River. The Friends set aside its concept for a visitor center and began a journey to engage with Native American communities and gain an understanding about the cultural and spiritual significance of this place.

The Friends committed to creating an engagement process centered on Native voices. We convened the Native Partnership Council and hosted a series of Community Conversations that brought Native and non-Native communities together to create a shared vision for the Falls. These discussions were grounded in Indigenous values, like Mitákuye Owas’iƞ (We Are All Relatives) and Mní Wičóni (Water is Life).

The recent transition to Owámniyomni Okhódayapi is not just another name change. It marks an important, intentional, and fundamental shift in how the organization operates. The name Owámniyomni Okhódayapi uplifts Dakota language and makes visible the fact that this is Dakota homeland. Owámniyomni Okhódayapi is Dakota-led and the organization has a Native American majority board of directors.

Learn more about Dakota language, orthographic variations, and the profound impacts of colonization on the Voices of the Falls blog.

We are dedicated to centering Native voices, strengthening our connections to Dakota relatives, and uplifting the actively silenced stories of Dakota people through our work at the Falls. We will continue this work in a good way.

Staff

Shelley Buck

President

Tinta Wita (Prairie Island Indian Community)

Shelley Buck became President of Owámniyomni Okhódayapi in January 2023. Buck is an enrolled member of the Prairie Island Indian Community and served 12 years on the Prairie Island Tribal Council, including six years as president. Prior to being elected to Tribal Council, Buck held other positions serving the Tribe, including enrollment clerk and government relations specialist.

Buck has a Bachelor of Science in business accounting from Indiana University and a Masters of Art in sports management from Concordia University. She recently finished a second Masters of Jurisprudence in tribal Indian law from the University of Tulsa.

Buck currently serves on the boards of the Minnesota Wild Foundation, Great River Passage Conservancy, and Wakan Tipi Awanyankapi in St. Paul. She also held the position of Alternate Regional VP for the National Congress of American Indians.

Kjersti Duval

Project Advisor

As Owamniyomni Okhodayapi's Project Advisor, Kjersti manages project work flows including the conveyance process and professional services necessary to affect the transformative restoration of the Central Riverfront through design and construction. She supports OO's coordination of these activities with the Dakota Nations, the City, the Park Board, and the USACE. Kjersti is CEO of Duval Companies and founder of Studio Civic | Duval, a practice line within Duval supporting the unique design, development management, and engagement needs of public interest projects and public-private partnerships. With executive experience implementing transformative urban projects in both private sector and public sector contexts, she has developed an informed perspective on how consequential places come to be. Kjersti is an affiliate of the Minnesota Design Center (University of Minnesota College of Design), and a contributing resource professional for the Mayor’s Institute on City Design. She also serves as a Park Commissioner in her hometown of Orono, Minnesota, where she lives with her husband and two children.

Barry Hand

Program Director

Oglala Sioux

Barry Hand has been working for the Twin Cities American Indian community for most of his adult life. He has developed and managed programs for Ain Dah Yung Center and the American Indian Family Center and taught Lakota/Dakota language at Harding Sr. High School, Bdote Learning Center, North Hennepin Community College and the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities. Most recently he served as the Language and Culture Coordinator for Prairie Island Indian Community (PIIC) where he taught Dakota Language at Red Wing High School and developed language and cultural programs for PIIC's community members.

Barry's deep knowledge of Dakota culture, history, and language and his vast professional experience in Indian Country are a welcome addition to our team at Owamniyomni Okodayapi.

Chad A. Poitra

Director of Advancement

Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians

Chad A Poitra is the Founder and Chief Disruption Officer of InnoNative Consulting Inc, a strategy consulting firm located in mni sota mokace, on the traditional homelands of the Dakota people. Chad has over 20+ years of community and economic development with, for and in Indian Country, with 15 years working in the philanthropic community and directing over $60 million dollars to Indigenous causes and communities. Most recently, Chad has co-founded a software startup Launchkit with his Jedi partner Gordon Liu. Launchkit provides a wrap-around solution to project coaching and is designed to help business and individuals navigate the journey of project management, from ideation to launch. Chad is also a founding board member of Project Cultivate, a network of physical hubs for entrepreneurship and economic development, with a specific focus on underserved entrepreneurs and culturally inspired startups. The goal is a replicable framework to empower local community and economic development organizations to address inequities more intentionally in entrepreneurship and business development.

An enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, Chad has served on the Board Directors for Native Americans in Philanthropy and Children's Minnesota Foundation, and currently sits on the Greater Twin Cities United Way, Social Enterprise Program Related Investment Review Team for Venn Foundation and in an advisory role with the Peachtree Minority Venture Fund at The Roberto C. Goizueta Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.

Margaret Richardson

Operations & Management Coordinator

Angela Shober

Business Manager

Angela joined Owámniyomni Okhódayapi in 2020 with 20+ years of administrative and accounting experience. She has worked for a large local accounting firm as well as independently. Most recently, she has been involved with personal accounting and administrative services for area executives along with several private family foundations and businesses. Angela is responsible for accounting functions for Owámniyomni Okhódayapi including vendor payments, generating invoices, processing receipts, banking, generating financial reports and coordinating with auditors. Angela and her husband reside in the west metro and have two grown children and two dogs. In her spare time she enjoys being outdoors, travel and photography.

Amanda Wigen

Communications Director

Through her firm Wigen Consulting LLC, Amanda Wigen advises public and private-sector clients on the park designs, operations, programming strategies and community engagement methods that result in world-class public spaces. Amanda started her career in New York City managing programming and operations at the Bryant Park and 34th Street Partnership business improvement districts. She then returned to her Midwestern roots to help establish the park conservancy Green Minneapolis. As part of a two-person team, Wigen launched the revitalized Peavey Plaza and the new downtown park The Commons. At both sites, Wigen was crucial in developing flexible and cost-effective operating plans and building relationships within the community.

Sage Yeager

Outreach & Communications Assistant

Tinta Wita (Prairie Island Indian Community)

Sage Yeager is Mdewakanton Dakota from Prairie Island. She has a background in communication studies and is currently finishing a Bachelors of Science degree in Global Studies at the University of Denver, after which she plans to earn a certificate in nonprofit management.

Before joining Owámniyomni Okhódayapi, Sage owned and operated her own videography business where she specialized in wedding films and did varied contract work with local entities such as Prairie Island Indian Community. Her work history includes many positions in her Tribal community, most recently serving as the tribe's Enrollment Clerk.

Board of Directors

Shelley Buck

President

Tinta Wita (Prairie Island Indian Community)
Board Member since 2022

Shelley Buck became President of Owámniyomni Okhódayapi in January 2023. Buck is an enrolled member of the Prairie Island Indian Community and served 12 years on the Prairie Island Tribal Council, including six years as president. Prior to being elected to Tribal Council, Buck held other positions serving the Tribe, including enrollment clerk and government relations specialist.

Buck has a Bachelor of Science in business accounting from Indiana University and a Masters of Art in sports management from Concordia University. She recently finished a second Masters of Jurisprudence in tribal Indian law from the University of Tulsa.

Buck currently serves on the boards of the Minnesota Wild Foundation, Great River Passage Conservancy, and Wakan Tipi Awanyankapi in St. Paul. She also held the position of Alternate Regional VP for the National Congress of American Indians.

Mark Andrew

Board Member since 2019

Mark Andrew served as the first President of Owámniyomni Okhódayapi (formerly Friends of the Falls), from 2019 to 2023, and led the effort to convert the board to Native American control and create a Native-centered identity for the project. He is Founder and President of GreenMark Enterprises, LLC, a sustainability consultancy that brands sustainable improvements to high profile venues, and is Co-Founder and past President of GreenMark Solar, LLC.

Previously, Andrew was elected five times to the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners. As County Board Chair, Andrew initiated and authored the first dedicated urban hiking and biking trails in the Twin Cities (Midtown Greenway), was chief author of the state’s first and largest recycling ordinance, and was Chair of the transit authority that planned and selected the state’s first light rail transit line. He helped to lead the effort to acquire and preserve the Stone Arch Bridge and re-build the Hennepin Avenue Bridge. Andrew’s initiatives won more than a dozen Innovation Awards from the National Association of Counties.

In recent years Andrew has been a professional commentator for StarTribune.com; served on the Board of Thinc.Green, Minneapolis’ strategic sustainability initiative; and in 2017 was Chair of Save Our Minneapolis Parks, a non-profit group that successfully secured over $220 million for long-term capital improvements to the City’s park system. Andrew is immediate past Chair of the Board of Meet Minneapolis, the city’s tourism agency, and continues to be a sought-after resource for candidates and environmental and justice causes.

Kevin J. Armstrong

Kevin J. Armstrong

Treasurer

Board Member since 2020

Kevin J. Armstrong is a regulatory attorney and expert in financial technology law and corporate governance. He has built a reputation as a trusted advisor able to provide solid advice to drive business strategy, growth, and service delivery. He is an advisor and board director for NeuroColor, LLC who thinks broadly about his role as a trusted advisor. As an influential business leader, he has a consistent record of providing strategic and operational direction and support to drive growth. Kevin has a reputation of successfully collaborating across functional and business teams and effectively leverages his expertise in corporate governance, e-commerce, payments, digital, risk management and M&A to achieve business goals. With a focus on culture-building, he has been a vocal advocate for sustainability, diversity, inclusion, and equity, and has held leadership roles on corporate affinity groups, and promoted actions to create and foster purpose driven/value-oriented corporate brands.

Edna Brazaitis

Board Member since 2016

Edna Brazaitis, an attorney and riverfront champion, cofounded Friends of the Riverfront, a nonprofit whose mission is to protect and preserve the cultural and natural resources of the Central Mississippi Riverfront Regional Park. Since 2005, Friends of the Riverfront has advocated for riverfront parks. Edna is active on numerous boards and committees. In addition to Friends of the Falls, she serves as the Minnesota Historical Society appointee to the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Board. She previously served on the boards of Mississippi Riverfront Partnership and Preserve Minneapolis. Edna is also a member of the St. Anthony Falls Alliance. She has advised on numerous plans and initiatives related to parks, heritage, and riverfront development over decades. From riverfront and St. Anthony park planning by the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board to area planning by the City of Minneapolis to the Power of the Falls planning done by the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Board, Edna has been an engaged and valued advisor.

Rebecca Crooks-Stratton

Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community
Board Member since 2024

Rebecca Crooks-Stratton's profound connection to the River stems from her identity as a Mdewakanton Dakota person, deeply rooted in the land and spiritual heritage of her ancestors. For her, the River is not just a body of water: it is a living entity intertwined with Indigenous history and cultural significance. Rebecca sees Indigenizing the River as a vital effort to re-establish Indigenous narratives and acknowledge the invaluable contributions of Dakota people as original caretakers of the land and water. Owámniyomni Okhódayapi’s mission resonates deeply with Rebecca's vision, offering a platform to celebrate Dakota heritage and promote cultural understanding within the Twin Cities community.

With a wealth of personal and professional experience, Rebecca brings a unique perspective and voice to centering Native voices, caring for the land and water and fostering community connections. Her tenure as Secretary/Treasurer of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Business Council provided her with insights into tribal governance, community relations and strategic initiatives like Understand Native Minnesota. Through her active involvement in organizations like the Native American Rights Fund, MN Zoo Board of Trustees and National Congress of American Indians, Rebecca has demonstrated her commitment to advocacy, education and building meaningful partnerships. As a respected leader and advocate, Rebecca Crooks-Stratton continues to champion Indigenous voices and initiatives that honor the River's heritage and promote cultural revitalization.

Peter L. Gove

Board Member since 2017

Peter Gove's connection to the Mississippi River runs deep, shaped by decades of dedicated work and advocacy for its preservation and significance. His journey began in the 1970s by serving in key roles within Minnesota state government and the National Park Service during a pivotal period for the Mississippi River corridor. Peter played a crucial role in shaping the River's recognition as a national treasure as the citizen chair of the National Park Service commission that developed the general management plan for the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA). In 1993, he solidified his commitment by founding Friends of the Mississippi River, a citizen advocacy group focused on water quality, land conservation, riverfront development and equitable access for all communities.
Peter's perspective on Indigenizing the River underscores the importance of honoring the Dakota people's homeland and safeguarding significant Native American sites. His extensive professional experience, ranging from executive positions in corporate communications to serving as Governor Wendell R. Anderson's environmental advisor and commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, equipped him with a comprehensive understanding of environmental stewardship, community engagement and Indigenous rights. Peter's leadership roles in various environmental organizations, such as the Wild Rivers Conservancy and Trust for Public Land, reflect his ongoing dedication to caring for land and water, centering Native voices and fostering connections with communities.

Senator Mary Kunesh

Standing Rock Lakota Sioux Descendent
Board Member since 2022

Senator Mary Kunesh (Standing Rock Lakota Sioux descendant) was elected to the MN House of Representatives, District 41B, in 2016 and elected to the Senate, District 39, in 2020. She is the first woman of Native descent to be elected as a Minnesota State Senator. Through her tenure, she has passed legislation to create the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women's (MMIW) Task Force and the Missing and Murder Indigenous Relatives (MMIR) Office. Senator Kunesh serves as an Assistant Majority Leader for the DFL Senate Caucus. As an educator, Mary retired, from her role, as a public-school library media specialist after 25 years of service.

Greg Lais

Greg Lais

Board Member since 2018

Greg Lais, a dedicated social entrepreneur and adventurer, discovered the transformative power of the Mississippi River in 1995 during a fishing trip below the Ford Dam. This experience sparked a profound connection to the River, leading him to recognize its monumental role in the Twin Cities. As the founder of Wilderness Inquiry, Greg built a substantial canoeing program on the River, known today as "Canoemobile." This initiative, featuring 24' cedar strip canoes, has introduced tens of thousands of youth and adults to the River, providing direct and meaningful experiences. For Greg, the Mississippi River is not just a natural resource, it is home: a sacred place that has inspired his life's work in connecting people of all abilities to its beauty.
Greg's professional journey focuses on building inclusive programs that make the River accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities. His commitment to centering Native voices, caring for land and water and Indigenizing the River is evident in the profound impact Wilderness Inquiry has had on people's lives, transforming their understanding of the River and fostering a direct and spiritual connection to this essential natural wonder.

Robert L. Larsen

C̣aƞṡayapi (Lower Sioux Indian Community)
Board Member since 2024

Robert L. Larsen is a member of the Lower Sioux Indian Community in the State of Minnesota (“Community”) and grew up primarily within C̣aƞṡayapi. He was elected to the Community Council, the Community’s governing body, in 2013 and presently serves as the Community’s Council President.
President Larsen, also known as "Deuce" to many, is very active in his role advancing the interests of the Community. He also participates in matters supporting tribal/state relations and serves as the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council Chairman. When President Larsen is not handling official business, he enjoys spending time with his beautiful wife, eleven children and one grandchild, playing pool, golfing and riding his Harley.
Members of the Lower Sioux Indian Community are part of the Bdewakantuan Band of Dakota. “Dakota” translates closely to "friend" or "ally" in Dakota language, and the Community refers to its traditional Minnesota River Valley homeland as C̣aƞṡayapi (where they marked the trees red).

Maggie Lorenz

Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe & Spirit Lake Dakota Nation Descendent
Board Member since 2022

Maggie Lorenz is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe and descends from Spirit Lake Dakota Nation. Maggie serves as executive director at Wakaŋ Tipi Awaŋyaŋkapi, a Native-led environmental conservation non-profit on Saint Paul's east side. Maggie has spent her professional career in the fields of education, cultural resiliency and healing, and environmental justice. In addition to the Owámniyomni Okhódayapi Board, Maggie serves on the board of directors for the F. R. Bigelow Foundation and the Tiwahe Foundation. She is a proud east sider and mother of three amazing children.

Austin Owen

Tinta Wita (Prairie Island Indian Community)
Board Member since 2023

Austin Owen (Tasia popo dowan), lives in St. Paul and represents Tinta wita Bdewankanton Prairie Island Dakota and the Hopi nation. He is one of many grandchildren to Amos Owen, a well known Dakota man who brought Dakota spirituality and reconciliation to the state of Minnesota and the world. As Austin has grown older he has continued to follow in Amos' footsteps through the teachings of his father, Art Owen, and uncle, Raymond Owen.

He also has a deep passion for music and has been in the industry for over 20 years. Austin received a degree in audio engineering from the Los Angeles Recording School. When not involved in music, he also works with the American Indian Prison Project which aims to continue changing the concept and definition of restorative justice using Dakota culture, values, and sacred teachings to reconnect our incarcerated relatives to their heritage.

Paul Reyelts

In Memoriam

Board Member 2016-2024.

Paul Reyelts' deep connection to the River traces back to his childhood on a South Dakota farm, which planted the seeds for his passion for architecture and design. Although his career took a financial trajectory, the downtown Minneapolis central riverfront beckoned in retirement, and Paul became a champion for public spaces along the River, including Water Works Park and Gold Medal Park. In 2016, Paul, and friend Mark Wilson, founded Owámniyomni Okhódayapi (formerly Friends of the Falls, Friends of the Lock & Dam) to redevelop the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock site. What began as a project to restore the natural landscape and river access evolved into a profound initiative to understand and honor the Dakota people's spiritual and cultural connection to the land. This transformative journey led the non-profit to pivot towards a broader mission of educating both Native and non-Native communities about Dakota history, culture and values.
Owámniyomni Okhódayapi has transitioned to Dakota leadership and a Native American-majority Board of Directors, and Paul, as a non-Native board member, embraced his role by listening, learning and supporting Native leadership in reshaping the narrative of the riverfront's history and amplifying Dakota voices. Paul described his work with Owámniyomni Okhódayapi as the most inspiring and gratifying professional experience of his life, demonstrating the profound impact that personal passion and dedication can have in revitalizing and honoring the sacred connection between a community and its River.

Kit Richardson

Board Member since 2017

Kit Richardson is a founding Principal and owner of Schafer Richardson, LLC, a Minneapolis based real estate development firm. A registered Architect, Kit began his professional career working in the office of famed Minneapolis Architect, Ralph Rapson, before forming his own architectural firm with another partner. After spending a number of years practicing architecture, and later working in the real estate investment brokerage industry, he co-founded Schafer Richardson, LLC in 1995. Kit spends the majority of his time at SR in conceptual design, entitlement, and construction review of virtually all of SR’s projects, with a special interest in historic properties.

Mona Smith

Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate
Board Member since 2023

Mona Smith, a Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota multimedia artist and educator, intricately weaves her life's narrative around the meandering currents of the Mississippi River. Raised in a predominantly white river town, Mona's childhood was shaped by the River's dual nature – a source of joy and tranquility until the transformative flood of 1965 revealed its unpredictable facets. Mona spent countless hours immersed in the River's embrace: swimming, boating, observing barges and contemplating the intricate dance of river life.

For Mona, Indigenizing the River is not about changing the River itself but transforming humanity's relationship with it. Recognizing the River as a living being that we share the Earth with prompts us to reconsider decisions for a shared future.

In her work as a multimedia artist, Mona amplifies the voices and perspectives of Dakota and other Indigenous communities, providing a platform for non-Native individuals to deeply listen and understand alternative worldviews. As a co-founder of Allies: media/art and the Healing Place Collaborative, she uses multimedia installations and web projects like bdotememorymap.org and bdemakaska.net to foster connection, understanding and healing. Mona's involvement in the Dakota Community Council, her consultancy for Indian Mounds Park and her dedication to the Mapping Spectral Traces International Network showcase her commitment to centering Native voices, caring for land and water and fostering meaningful connections within communities.

Cris Stainbrook

Oglala Lakota
Board Member since 2022

Cris Stainbrook, Oglala Lakota, has been working in philanthropy for 35 years and has been President of Indian Land Tenure Foundation since its inception in 2002. As the Foundation’s president, Stainbrook provides leadership, strategic direction, management, fundraising and policy oversight to the organization with an emphasis on the successful implementation of the Foundation’s mission. He also serves as Chairman of the Board for Indian Land Capital Company, ILTF’s lending subsidiary. Before joining ILTF, Stainbrook spent 13 years at Northwest Area Foundation, where he held several positions. As program officer, he managed grant making programs in sustainable development, natural resource management, economic development and basic human needs. During his final four years with Northwest Area, he served as the community activities lead, overseeing a rapidly growing staff and implementing new programs aimed at developing community-directed plans.

Stainbrook was a founding member of Native Americans in Philanthropy and served on the board of directors for 11 years. He was also a founder and longtime advisory committee member of the Two Feathers Endowment of The Saint Paul Foundation. He currently serves on the board of the US Endowment for Forestry and Communities Stainbrook holds a bachelor of science from the University of Iowa and a master’s degree in fisheries science from Oregon State University.

Dana Thompson

Sisseton Wahpeton and Mdewakanton Dakota Descendent
Board Member since 2022

Dana Thompson, a lineal descendent of Wahpeton-Sisseton and Mdewakanton Dakota Tribes, shares a connection to the River woven deeply into her personal and professional journey, reflecting a profound reverence for the land and water that sustains life. As a founder of Owamni Restaurant, Dana's work to indigenize Ȟaȟawákpa (the Mississippi River) holds a special significance. Bringing her daughter home to Nicollet Island, a place rich with Indigenous history, with the guidance of an Indigenous doula, not only deepened Dana's connection to her heritage but also instilled a sense of healing and respect for the Indigenous history of the place. Learning about the feminist and Indigenous roots of Wíta Wanáǧi (Spirit Island), despite its destruction by colonizers, underscored the importance of reclaiming and honoring ancestral lands as spaces of peace, healing and connection.
Dana's perspective on Indigenizing the River stems from a recognition of colonial history's shortsightedness and greed, contrasting it with the Indigenous understanding of stewardship and consequences. Drawing from her Dakota heritage, including her grandfather's work on preserving original waterway names, Dana's lifelong dedication to social entrepreneurship, food sovereignty and honoring Indigenous heritage reflects her belief in leveraging education and community engagement to create lasting positive change in reclaiming and indigenizing spaces like the Minneapolis riverfront.

Image credit: Heidi Ehalt.

Angela Two Stars

Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate
Board Member since 2020

Angela Two Stars, a proud member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, is on a profound journey of reconnection with the River that holds the echoes of her ancestry. In 2017, Angela returned to her ancestral homelands in Minnesota, rediscovering the sacred sites that were distant stories during her upbringing on the Lake Traverse reservation. Her ancestor, Solomon Two Stars, left the state in the aftermath of the Dakota exile in 1862. Angela's return signifies a deep commitment to learning and honoring the sacred sites that have been inaccessible to Angela and other exiled Dakota people for so long.
To Angela, Indigenizing the River means fostering a relationship with the River that mirrors the respect and honor Indigenous people inherently attribute to it, as opposed to viewing water as a mere commodity. As a visual artist and curator, Angela brings her cultural identity into every artwork she creates. As the director of All My Relations Arts, a program of the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI), Angela has dedicated her professional career to centering Native voices, history, culture and experiences. Her impact extends beyond the gallery through curatorial work on exhibitions like "Bring Her Home, Stolen Daughters of Turtle Island," shedding light on the ongoing epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Angela's endeavors transcend traditional boundaries, gracing the shores of Bde Maka Ska with public art that captivates but also imparts the Dakota language through visual accessibility. Her commissions for the City of Minneapolis, Saint Paul Port Authority and Ordway Center for Performing Arts showcase Angela's commitment to integrating her cultural identity into the public sphere.

Mark Wilson

Co-Founder & Interim Chair

Board Member since 2016

Mark Wilson is a board member of Winmark Corporation, The Goodman Group, Gold Medal Park Conservancy and past board member of The St. Paul Foundation (chair), Minnesota Community Foundation (chair) and GiveMn.org. Mr. Wilson enjoys whitewater rafting and skiing, and is a cum laude graduate of Carleton College and the University of Minnesota Law School. He is co-founder and serves as the Interim Chair for the Owámniyomni Okhódayapi Board.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is The Falls Initiative?

The Falls Initiative is an effort to create a place of healing, restoration, connection, and education at Owámniyomni (St. Anthony Falls), on 5-acres of property adjacent to the Upper Lock. The lock closed to commercial navigation in 2015 and is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Falls Initiative is an effort to create a place of healing, restoration, connection, and education at Owámniyomni (St. Anthony Falls), on 5-acres of property adjacent to the Upper Lock. The lock closed to commercial navigation in 2015 and is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

What is Owámniyomni Okhódayapi?

Owámniyomni Okhódayapi is a Dakota-led non-profit creating a future where Dakota culture has a vital presence and Dakota values – such as mni wičóni, or water is life – are embedded into our communal existence. We are currently working to transform five acres of land at Owámniyomni (St. Anthony Falls) into a place of restoration, education, healing and connection.

The organization was founded in 2016 to protect the property from further privatization, find ways to transfer the land to local control, and to develop a Native-centered community engagement process. It was previously named Friends of the Lock & Dam and Friends of the Falls.

Owámniyomni Okhódayapi is the City and Park Board’s agent in negotiations with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It is also a cost sharing partner.

What is the project timeline?

We will carry out this work in four phases or “seasons”: the now-completed first season focused on intensive community engagement (2016–22); the second on engagement with the four Dakota Tribal Nations in Mní Sóta to finalize design and cultural/educational programming, now underway (2023–25), the third on transforming the site through cultural and environmental restoration (2026–27), and the fourth representing the ongoing life of the Falls and its role in the community and region (2028+).

Who will own it?

5 acres of property adjacent to the Upper Lock will be conveyed, or transferred, from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to Owámniyomni Okhódayapi (OO). The four Dakota Tribal Nations in Mní Sóta support OO assuming ownership short term; Tribal ownership remains a possibility in the future.

Owámniyomni Okhódayapi continues to advocate for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to maintain ownership and operations of the Upper Lock structure itself.

What are the four Dakota Tribal Nations in Mní Sóta?

The four federally recognized Dakota communities in the area we call Minnesota are the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community located south of the Twin Cities near Prior Lake; Prairie Island Indian Community located near Red Wing; Lower Sioux Indian Community located near Redwood Falls; and Upper Sioux Community, whose lands are near the city of Granite Falls.

What are Tribal Nations?

There are 574 federally recognized Tribal Nations in the United States. Tribal Nations have inherent sovereignty, meaning that the Nations’ authority to govern predates the formation of the United States and has existed since the Nations themselves came into being. Tribal Nations have the power and/or right to determine their form of government; define citizenship; make and enforce laws through their own police force and courts; collect taxes; regulate the domestic affairs of their citizens; and regulate property use, among many other authorities. Tribal sovereignty is recognized in the U.S. Constitution and other federal laws, all of which reaffirm Indian Nations’ rights to govern themselves and manage their own lands and resources.

Sources: National Congress American Indians, Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, Indian Land Tenure Foundation, U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs

Where can I learn more about Tribal Nations?

We recommend the following resources:

National Congress of American Indians, “Tribal Nations and the United States: An Introduction”

Minnesota Indian Affairs Council (MIAC), “Tribal Nations in Minnesota”

Indian Land Tenure Foundation, “Tribal Land Tenure Issues”

MIAC, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, Minnesota Humanities Center, “Why Treaties Matter: Self-Government in the Dakota and Ojibwe Nations”

U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Federally Recognized Tribes 

Who will pay for the project?

It is expected that both public and private funds will be required to implement the project. To date, Owámniyomni Okhódayapi (OO) has committed over $10 million and the State of Minnesota has committed $2.8 million via a Legislative-Citizen Commission for Minnesota Resources grant.

We have assembled cost estimates for site preparation, construction, and ongoing operations. Owámniyomni Okhódayapi will lead a fundraising campaign to support capital expenses and create an endowment.

How is The Falls Initiative related to Water Works Park? How will these places work together?

The Falls Initiative site abuts land owned by the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board. The portion of land south of Portland Avenue is Mill Ruins Park, and the portion north of Portland Avenue will be transformed as part of Water Works Phase 2.

Owámniyomni Okhódayapi is actively coordinating with the City of Minneapolis and Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board regarding the design and programming of these spaces. The intention is for the properties to be compatible and experienced seamlessly as one place by the public.

Will the National Park Service continue to operate and host programming at the Upper Lock?

The Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA) is a 72-mile protected corridor along the Mississippi River that includes the portion of river that runs through Minneapolis and St. Paul.

From 2016-2023, the National Park Service (NPS) and its non-profit partner Mississippi Park Connection (MPC) activated the Upper Lock by hosting visitor services, tours, and arts and education programs. These programs were made possible through a use agreement between NPS and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

The National Park Service is not expected to activate the Upper Lock in 2024, though they will still offer a number of visitor and recreation programs throughout the 72-mile National Park.

Why has Owámniyomni Okhódayapi put Dakota voices in the lead?

Centering The Falls Initiative on Dakota voices recognizes that the Upper Lock, and the entire City of Minneapolis, are located on Dakota homeland. Dakota people came to Owámniyomni (St. Anthony Falls) for ceremony and to Wíta Wanáǧi (Spirit Island) to give birth. This place of power had spiritual significance long before it was forcefully claimed by settlers. The Falls and Spirit Island were destroyed as Ȟaȟa Wakpá, or Wakpá Tháŋka (Mississippi River), was harnessed and industrialized.

Why not remove the Upper Lock and Dam?

It’s possible the Upper Lock could be removed and replaced with a passive weir system. However, removal was considered as part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ draft disposition study, and at the time, it was not considered financially viable. 

It is unlikely the dam and concrete apron could be removed. If the dam were removed without extensive stabilization, the falls would disintegrate into rapids. The river would erode far upstream, potentially as far as 30 miles. The upper pool would effectively be eliminated, which would significantly reduce the water level at the location of the Minneapolis water intake.

Furthermore, many of The Falls Initiative Native Partnership Council members were in favor of retaining and repurposing the lock rather than removing it. Removing the lock would conceal its role in the desecration of Owámniyomni and Wíta Wanáǧi. The River cannot be truly restored to what it once was.

What is the status of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Disposition Study for the Upper Lock?

In January 2021, a draft disposition study for Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam was published. The draft disposition study report recommends disposing of all Upper Lock property that is not conveyed to the City of Minneapolis or its designee for The Falls Initiative. The Corps has said it plans to issue the final disposition study report further along in the conveyance process.

For more information: https://www.mvp.usace.army.mil/USAF/

What impact does this have on plans for the Lower Lock and Lock #1?

The Army Corps is currently conducting disposition studies for the Lower Lock and Lock #1 in an effort to determine whether there is a federal interest in continuing to own and operate the lock and dams.

Lock and dam removal may be feasible at the Lower Lock and Lock #1, which would drop water levels in the river gorge and expose the riverbed’s boulders, islands, and rapids.

Disposition and/or removal of the Lower Lock and Lock #1 are NOT dependent on the disposition of the Upper Lock. However, the reduced water level would affect the shoreline, water access, and programming opportunities at this site.

Owámniyomni Okhódayapi has not taken a position in support or opposition of removing Lower Lock or Lock #1.

For more information: https://www.mvp.usace.army.mil/LSAF/