Putting Voices of the First People at the Center of Planning

By Robert Lilligren | July 30, 2020

We are fortunate in our state and region to have a history of strong leadership of Indigenous people, activists, and advocates. Currently, there is a robust movement to reclaim the narrative of First Peoples' histories, stories, and to restore culture, names, and languages. For Native people, relationships to one and other, and relationship to place is very important. Historically, disrupting these relationships and desecrating sacred sites have been used as strong tools for colonization. As Indigenous people, we still experience the trauma of these erasures daily.

A living example of the ongoing trauma is the forced removal of our people from, and damage to, the sacred site at Owamniyomni, the Dakota name for this place that is now known as St. Anthony Falls. I am excited about this new opportunity and partnership with Friends of the Falls. As a non-Native organization, Friends of the Falls has made the determination to put the voices of the First People of this land at the center of the planning at the lock and dam. Friends of the Falls will be working collaboratively with our staff at NACDI to form a Native Advisory Council to advise on the project. Hopefully, this is the start of long term relationship building to center Native people, voices, and stories of this place, and of other sacred sites. We cannot change the past. We can move forward improving the way that Native people have historically been treated and engaged in the design of important public spaces.

Robert Lilligren is an enrolled citizen of the White Earth Nation, the President & CEO of the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI), and currently serving as a Metropolitan Council Member for District 7 (Near South Minneapolis, Downtown, North Minneapolis, and Robbinsdale).

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