By Robert Lilligren | January 24, 2022
The Friends of the Falls leadership has committed to authentically center Native voices in this process. Partnering with the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI), the team set a strategy to focus engagement on the descendants of the people who were here first, primarily the Dakota people. To that, we formed the Native Partnership Council (NPC) and invited leading voices from the four Dakota Tribes and the local Dakota community of cultural carriers and water activists.
The Native Partnership Council started in ceremony. Dakota and Ojibwe Elders and medicine men led a solemn ceremony including the NPC, Friends of the Falls board and staff, City Council representatives and Mayor Frey. The Ki Ceremony (‘Ki’ means ‘to arrive back to where one started, to return’ in the Dakota language) called to the spirit of the river and started our work in a meaningful way. It was a moving ceremony for all involved.
In the following sessions, NPC members shared their knowledge, experiences and stories about the river, about water more broadly, and the land. The group established Indigenous values as the basis of our work, and recognized the Rights of Water. NPC members have done groundbreaking work in centering Native voices in this project. Many members of the group have expressed support for the sequencing of our work, and how starting with the water and Native perspective will benefit this, and other projects and processes.
Robert Lilligren is President and CEO of the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI). Friends of the Falls and NACDI jointly lead community engagement efforts for The Falls Initiative.