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The First Season | 2016 - 2022

The Falls Initiative Community Engagement Plan outlined a framework for centering Native voices in discussions about the future of Owámniyomni and property adjacent to the Upper Lock, currently in federal ownership. Resources were allocated to connect meaningfully with key audiences, including:

  • The diverse Native community, including sovereign Tribal Nations, urban Indians and those in exile, and those held up by the community as important voices for the future;
  • Community and riverfront stakeholders, including recreation interests, neighborhood interests, business and tourism interests, river and environmental interests, education interests, and historic resources interests; and,
  • The greater BIPOC community and those engaged in the work of truth and reconciliation, recognizing the importance of acknowledging their shared experience of racism.

Engagement Phases

The First Season encompassed a variety of engagement tactics and methods. At the heart of engagement process was the intention to center Native voices.

Phase 1


2016 – 2019

Key Objectives

  • Build a coalition of stakeholders to move government to action
  • Define community priorities

Key Outcomes

  • Stakeholders are opposed to privatization of the site and the prospect of a hydropower facility. They are supportive of the site being redeveloped and made accessible to all.
  • Recommendations for the site included:
    -Create an iconic civic and cultural destination
    -Ensure public access to the Upper Lock, and to the water
    -Share stories and knowledge, particularly about Native American culture, experience and perspectives
    -Provide a unified experience along the Riverfront
    -Develop a sustainable operating model for the project
  • Participants acknowledged that Owámniyomni is a sacred place to the Dakota people, and recognized the importance of engaging Native American perspectives in the process. Participants advised that the team reach out more purposefully to the Indigenous community.

Phase 2



Key Objectives

  • Build trust and cultivate relationships with the Indigenous community and Tribal Nations
  • Invite Native leaders to play a central role in shaping the future of the site
  • Alert the public and stakeholders to the Upper Lock disposition study and invite them to submit comments

Key Outcomes

  • Friends of the Falls contracted with the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI) to mentor staff and board members and facilitate outreach with the Native American community.
  • Added Phase 3: Grounding. More time would be needed to build relationships and earn trust with Tribal leadership and Native communities.
  • Dakota Tribal leadership endorsed creation of a Native Partnership Council.
  • Public engagement was challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic and the community grief and social unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd. Most engagement took place virtually.
  • 110 public comments were submitted in response to the Upper Lock draft disposition study; 100 of them opposed full disposition of the Lock. A sign-on letter was generated with over 600 signatures.

Phase 3



Key Objectives

  • Convene the Native Partnership Council to steer the planning process and shape priorities from an Indigenous perspective
  • Raise awareness about Indigenous history and perspectives, related to this site and the River

Key Outcomes

  • City of Minneapolis requested Government-to-Government consultation with the four Dakota Tribes in Mni Sota.
  • Carrie Day Aspinwall, CDA Enterprises, joined the engagement team as facilitator of the Native Partnership Council.
  • Council member stories coalesced into four main themes, which were featured in Phase 4 Community Conversations.
  • The City of Minneapolis named Friends of the Falls as its agent in negotiations with the Army Corps.

Phase 4



Key Objectives

  • Build a bridge between the Native Partnership Council and non-Native community members
  • Weave together Native Partnership Council direction and public input to inform early designs ideas for the site

Key Outcomes

  • Friends of the Falls and NACDI hosted five Community Conversations, bringing Native and non-Native communities together.
  • Individuals shared additional feedback via online surveys.
  • An Immersive Exhibit showcased the engagement process, site history, and provided 360 degree views of the Upper Lock.
  • GGN and VJAA shared architectural design ideas.

Phase 5



Key Objectives

  • Define a shared vision for the Falls, informed by Native Partnership Council values and broader public feedback
  • Identify opportunities for storytelling

Key Outcomes

  • Pop-up field engagement increased awareness for the project and allowed the public to respond to design ideas.
  • Friends of the Falls launched a Partnership & Programming Study, inviting Interboro Partners, MIGIZI, and Division of Indian Work to consider future partnerships with Native-led organizations.

Phase 6



Key Objectives

  • Present early design ideas for Owámniyomni
  • Advance negotiations with the Army Corps of Engineers
  • Continue Partnership & Programming Study

Key Outcomes

  • The Native Partnership Council authored a vision statement.
  • GGN and and VJAA released early design ideas.
  • The Engagement Team released the First Season Report, a comprehensive report of the engagement process and outcomes.

Native Partnership Council

Friends of the Falls and the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI), convened the Native Partnership Council as a channel to share stories about Owámniyomni, consider this place from an Indigenous perspective, and set guiding principles for the project. Dakota Tribal leadership endorsed this approach as a method to center Native voices.

All four Mni Sota Dakota Tribal leaders were invited to participate in the Council or to name a representative. Additional Council members were identified from the following categories: History Keepers, Spiritual Leadership, Artists, Environmental, Youth/Young Adult and Exiled Dakota Descendants.

  • Shelley Buck, Vice-President, Prairie Island Indian Community
  • Jewell Arcoren, Dakota Lakota, enrolled member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate
  • Juanita Espinosa, enrolled member of the Spirit Lake Nation, Turtle Mountain and LCO Descendant
  • Wakinyan LaPointe, Sicangu Lakota
  • Maggie Lorenz, Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe, descendant of Spirit Lake Dakota Nation
  • Mona Smith, Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota

The Council was joined and supported by the following spiritual and community leaders:

  • Chief Arvol Looking Horse, Lakota
  • Brian Matrious, Anishinaabe/Ojibwe
  • Carrie Day Aspinwall, Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Minneapolis Urban Band Member (Facilitator)
  • Robert Lilligren, enrolled in the White Earth Ojibwe Nation
  • Angela Two Stars, Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate
  • John Koepke, Ojibwe
  • Melissa Olson, tribal citizen of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe at Leech Lake

The initial meeting of the Native Partnership Council was held in September 2021 in the form of a Ki Ceremony. “Ki” means “to arrive back to where one started, to return” in the Dakota language.

At the beginning of each gathering, we’d smudge and recognize that the River has a spirit which we must honor and respect; she is the life vein of our Mother Earth. The Council then met in a circle, a place where all are equal and each voice has its place. Here, they shared thoughts and stories about the Falls. Members responded to questions like:

  • How can we look at this place through the lens of tribal history?
  • What is your personal history with this place? Do you have family stories related to the River?
  • In what ways has this history been hidden or erased? Are there ways it is still visible?
  • How do we define the site’s significance?
  • How do our people experience the River today?

These prompts led to powerful conversations about familial trauma, personal identity, tribal history, and cultural values. Native Partnership Council members also advocated for those who cannot speak for themselves. They spoke powerfully about the lasting impacts of genocide, industrialization, and commercialism on all of our relations – the River, the four-legged, the fish, the winged.

At the heart of all discussions was the River – a living spirit and mother of life. The Council challenged us to consider what the River wants, what can be learned from the water itself, and what would happen if this living force could flow as she wanted again.

Rather than record traditional meeting minutes, we documented early Native Partnership Council gatherings in a way that aligns with Native culture and traditional practices. Michelle Buchholz, a Wet’suwet’en artist who leads Cassyex Consulting, bore witness to Council sessions and created graphic recordings depicting key stories and themes.

Council members’ stories and sentiments coalesced into four themes that formed the basis of engagement sessions with the broader public:

  • A Place to Restore a Story Disrupted
  • A Place of Power
  • A Place of Connection / Mitákuye Owas’iƞ (All Our Relations)
  • The River is a Spirit / Mní Wičóni (Water is Life)

A Place of Connection

“We have a responsibility to maintain a connection with the River.”

-Member of the Native Partnership Council

The Earth Remembers

“I’ve been taught that the earth remembers. The more time we spend in a place in silence and ceremony, the more we can remember, both the bad and the good.”

-Member of the Native Partnership Council

Play Video

Play Featured Content | 1min

There is Power in This Place

“The white/dominant culture doesn’t see the earth as alive; they see it as a resource to be extracted and used. They never saw Spirit Island as a place of birth and life, but as an economic resource that needed to be extracted to run the mills.”

-Member of the Native Partnership Council

We Are Illegal

“[Previous generations] knew there was a law that said they couldn’t be here… so they stayed away. It took a long time for me to know that we’re illegal.”

-Member of the Native Partnership Council

Play Video

Play Featured Content | 1min

An Opportunity to Restore a Story Disrupted

“How can we begin to heal? How can we understand and acknowledge this site, this home, of our Dakota people, if we don’t have access?”

-Member of the Native Partnership Council

Water is Life

“We need to recognize the River has been here for ages. The River knows what she wants to happen… She is alive, she is a Spirit.”

-Member of the Native Partnership Council

Community Conversations

In 2022, Friends of the Falls and NACDI hosted five Community Conversations to educate and engage the public.

These events were tools to expand awareness for The Falls Initiative, increase transparency into our community engagement process, create a bridge between Native and non-Native communities, and align the priorities of multiple stakeholder groups.

The Partnership Council helped shape the format and content for each Community Conversation, and afterward, met to reflect on the public input. They took on the task of “weaving” together public and Council perspectives in order to find alignment.

Just as artist Michelle Buchholz bore witness to sessions of the Native Partnership Council, Friends of the Falls and NACDI engaged Studio Thalo to document Community Conversations from a BIPOC perspective.

Artists Nell Pierce, Bayou (Donald) Thomas, and Olivia Levins Holden produced a digital graphic recording in response to each community event, as well as a large-scale painting encapsulating themes that were shared across the complete Community Conversation series.

Native Partnership Council

Vision Statement

The vision of the Native Partnership Council is to create a place of healing at Owámniyomni that restores connections to Ȟaȟa Wakpá, Dakota culture, and language; teaches us to honor and care for all our relatives, including the land and water; and addresses the parallel trauma of colonization by recognizing the transformative power of this place.

Wókizi. Ihdúwitayapi. Waúŋspekhiye. Wówaš’ake. Wówakhaŋ.

Heal. Connect. Teach. Strength. Power.

“Parallel trauma” is a term coined by scholar and Native Partnership Council member Jewell Arcoren to describe the trauma carried by the perpetrators of violence, which runs parallel to the intergenerational historical trauma experienced by victims. The concept of parallel trauma challenges those who committed genocide against Indigenous people, or subsequently benefitted from systems of privilege and oppression, to peel back generations of shame, guilt, and fear and recognize the ways we are all connected to each other. By recognizing this dual-trauma, we can level the playing field, open the door to accountability, and move entire communities toward healing and recovery. 

Credit: Arcoren, Jewell (2022). Intergenerational Historical Trauma and Parallel Trauma. Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, Schools of Graduate & Professional Programs, Counseling and Psychological Services.

First Season Report

The First Season Report conveys the thoughtful engagement process crafted by Owámniyomni Okhódayapi, NACDI, and Carrie Day Aspinwall to ground the project in Indigenous values and bring Native and non-Native communities together. This first season of work, through December 2022, might be considered “winter”, a time for connection, storytelling, and preparation for what’s to come.

Read the Executive Summary or dive into the four-part document for detailed information.

Second Season | 2023 - 2025

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 longterm 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.

Third Season | 2026 - 2027

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.

Fourth Season | 2028+

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.