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The Site

The site of The Falls Initiative is an iconic place on the Central Riverfront in Minneapolis, next to Owámniyomni, St. Anthony Falls. 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, the site has been fenced off with limited public access.

The Lock closed to commercial navigation in 2015, and now idle, presents an opportunity to transform the site and return our community to Ȟaȟa Wakpá, or Wakpá Tháŋka, the Mississippi River.

Before industrialization, the natural Falls and the islands surrounding it were a sacred place for Dakota people. The waters once cascaded over a 50-foot limestone drop and roiled as misty white water through the islands at its base. Dakota people came to Owámniyomni for ceremony, and to Wíta Wanáǧi (Spirit Island), an oasis in the mist kicked up from the falling water, to give birth. Both were destroyed as the River was harnessed and industrialized. The narrow jetty south of the Upper Lock is believed to be all that remains of Spirit Island today. This missing history, from an Indigenous perspective, was rendered invisible for generations.

As westward expansion advanced and soldiers and settlers systematically displaced Indigenous people, the Falls drew a different kind of attention. Industrialists seeking to tame the wilderness and grow wealth through resource extraction saw the Falls as an economic driver capable of powering large scale industries: first sawmilling for the lumber industry, then flour milling, and finally commercial navigation.

The once natural River was harnessed, hardened, and industrialized. As a result, the living River ecosystem was biologically diminished. It became a dangerous place to be, its waters inaccessible to people for generations. 

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.

The Falls Initiative

The Falls Initiative is an opportunity to transform the heart of Minneapolis’ Central Riverfront from a deactivated, concrete lock and largely inaccessible green space into an iconic destination honoring both Indigenous history and the beauty of the Falls itself.

We have an opportunity to create a place of healing at Owámniyomni (meaning “turbulent waters” in the Dakota language), or St. Anthony Falls, that acknowledges the past and advances a more equitable and inclusive future.

Project Timeline

The Upper Lock and the land around it is currently owned by the U.S. government. Since 2016, 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.

Through Native Partnership Council discussions, we’ve come to see the evolution of The Falls Initiative not in traditional development phases, but rather seasons of transformation.

In what we call the first season of work (Sept 2021 – Sept 2022), we sought 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.

In the second season (October 2022+), we consider models of ownership and operations and imagine how programming rooted in Native values can enliven this place. In this “spring” season, as the flora and fauna come alive again, we move closer to implementation.

Community Engagement for The Falls Initiative dates back to 2016 and spans both the first and second seasons.

Community Engagement Phases

Phase 1


Coalition Building

Phase 2


Inform & Connect

Phase 3



Phase 4

Jan – June 2022


Phase 5

July – Aug 2022


Phase 6

Nov – Mar 2023


During early phases of engagement (Phases 1-3, 2016-2021), Friends of the Falls built a constituency to move government to action, gained understanding of adopted plans that address this site, listened to community values and priorities, and cultivated knowledge and relationships to fully center the project on Native American voices.

In later phases (Phases 4-6, 2022-2023), we are educating and engaging the community on topics that will inform programming and design, such as connectivity and sustainability. We weave together direction and priorities voiced by the Native community and the broader public.


MPRB Adopts Riverfront Master Plan

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Upper Lock Closed to Commercial Navigation

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Founding of Friends of the Lock & Dam

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NPS Operates Falls Visitor Center & Conducts Tours

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NPCA releases 'Transforming the Lock' Idea Book

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Mississippi Park Connection activates the Lock

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Meet Minneapolis adopts 'Destination Transformation 2030'

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

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Friends of the Lock & Dam launched Phase 1 of engagement

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MPRB passes resolution supporting predesign for Lock visitor center

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

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Coalition members defined priorities for The Falls Initiative

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Senators introduce bill appropriating funds for Upper Lock redevelopment

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Stakeholders briefed on disposition study process at third coalition meeting

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WRDA expedites & expands scope of disposition study

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Senators direct USACE to coordinate with City of Minneapolis

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

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Fourth coalition meeting convened

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Upper Lock disposition study launched by US Army Corps of Engineers

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Friends of the Lock & Dam becomes Friends of the Falls

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Friends of the Falls launched Phase 2 of public engagement

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Friends of the Falls & NACDI form partnership

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Release of USACE Disposition Study draft report

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Water Resources Development Act of 2020

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Phase 3: Grounding added to engagement timeline

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City of Minneapolis requests Government to Government consultation

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Confirmation of $2.8M in LCCMR funding for early enhancements

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

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2021 American Indian Tourism Conference

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Friends of the Falls and NACDI launch Phase 4 of engagement

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MOU with City of Minneapolis

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Presentation at National Planning Conference

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

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Partnership Council Releases Vision Statement

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Early Design Ideas Released

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Retirement of Founding President Mark Andrew

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Shelley Buck Named President

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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.

Wakan Tipi, 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.

The Falls 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.

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 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 Team

Friends of the Falls is a 501c(3) public non-profit that engages all people to build understanding and embrace the value of Indigenous perspectives tied to Owámniyomni, a significant site on the Mississippi River. The organization was founded in February 2016 by Paul Reyelts and Mark Wilson in response to the closure of the Upper Lock to commercial navigation.

Our vision is to create places of healing and celebration that acknowledge the past and advance a more equitable and inclusive future.

We are committed to upholding the following guiding principles in our work:

  • Friends of the Falls will prioritize Native voices and experience.
  • Friends of the Falls will engage the community in a process that provides opportunity for truth telling and healing and that informs grassroots decision making.
  • Friends of the Falls will create public spaces where all are welcome.
  • Friends of the Falls will connect people to the river and contribute to a holistic experience of the Central Riverfront and the Mississippi River.
  • Friends of the Falls will pursue collective impact and partnerships that build trust and shared leadership.

Friends of the Falls Staff

Shelley Buck


Shelley Buck became President of Friends of the Falls 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 Lower Phalen Creek Project in St. Paul. She also held the position of Alternate Regional VP for the National Congress of American Indians.

Kjersti Duval

Project Director, The Falls Initiative

Kjersti is the CEO of Duval Companies and founder of Studio Civic | Duval, which supports the unique development management and engagement needs of public interest projects and public private partnerships. Kjersti is committed to innovative planning & design methods that authentically engage audiences, implement iconic urban development, and enable creative place-making.

Kjersti’s career has spanned the U.S., Europe, and Asia and her work has moved seamlessly between policy, design, and planning. Her work has been published by AD Magazine, Architecture Minnesota Magazine, 306090 (Princeton Architectural Press), and the Urban Land Institute, among other outlets. Building on a background of hands-on urban design practice and real estate strategy consulting in her early career with global AEC firms EDAW and AECOM, she has learned from the ground up and is highly skilled in design & development management. She is an affiliate urban design researcher at the University of Minnesota Design Center, and teaches urban design at the College of Design.

Kjersti also brings expertise in legislative & government relations, rooted in a decade of direct experience shaping and passing federal, state, and municipal policies and appropriations. Kjersti served in municipal government as the Minneapolis Planning Director for three years.

Kjersti has participated in civic life through board and committee service with Minneapolis Downtown Council, the Center for Transportation Studies (UMN), Super Bowl LII (Technology Subcommittee), Meet Minneapolis, and the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board. She is currently an appointed Park Commissioner in the City of Orono, MN.

Kjersti holds two Masters degrees from Harvard Graduate School of Design, one in Urban Planning and one in Landscape Architecture.

Chad A. Poitra

Development & Fundraising Coordinator

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 Friends of the Falls in April 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 basic accounting functions for Friends of the Falls 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

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 Friends of the Falls, 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.

Engagement, Design & Programming Partners

The Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI) helps Native people create the future they envision. Their work is founded on the belief that all American Indian people have a place, purpose, and a future strengthened by sustainable development. NACDI is a contract partner of Friends of the Falls and together they jointly lead community engagement for The Falls Initiative.

GGN, a landscape architecture firm based in Seattle, and VJAA, an architecture firm based in Minneapolis, lead The Falls Initiative design team. These firms provide visual depictions (storyboards, sketches, renderings) and designs for the site.

Interboro and its local partners MIGIZI and the Division of Indian Work are exploring partnerships and programming opportunities based on themes that emerged during initial engagement meetings.

Funding for this work was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR).

Robert Lilligren

President & CEO, NACDI

Robert became President and CEO of the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI) in May of 2016, after serving as the chair of the organization’s board of directors since its founding in 2007. Robert is enrolled in the White Earth Ojibwe Nation. He served for 12 years as the Vice President of the Minneapolis City Council, the first Tribal member elected to public office in the City of Minneapolis.
In his professional, political and activist work, Robert emphasizes empowering historically disenfranchised people. Robert lives the asset-based community development vision of NACDI. He sees true community development as building individuals' capacity.

Robert was appointed to the Metropolitan Council in March of 2019 and is Vice Chair of the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors (MUID), a regional leadership forum comprised of the executives of some three dozen Native organizations. He serves on a number of civic and public sector bodies, including the City of Minneapolis Truth and Reconciliation Workgroup, Meet Minneapolis Convention and Visitors Association, and the first Tribal member on the Metropolitan Council.

Robert has served on the boards of several nonprofits organizations. He is a housing developer, a transportation policy wonk, and a bicycle commuter. He lives in South Minneapolis with his husband, Steve.

Carrie Day Aspinwall

Special Consultant, CDA Enterprises

Carrie Day Aspinwall, CDA Enterprises, has served her people, both on and off the reservation her entire life. Working with the City of Minneapolis Neighborhood and Community Relations Department and their seventy-one neighborhoods provided the opportunity to engage residents, stakeholders, institutions, tribal and local governments in the areas of community engagement, organizational development and capacity building have provided a path for equity to emerge.

The ability to facilitate across many discussions has provided a deeper understanding of the challenges and similarities that we all share. Collaborating with communities to understand those commonalities and setting realistic goals further opens this path for the greater good.

Carrie facilitates meetings of the Native Partnership Council and is an enrolled citizen of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe/Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.

Ed Minnema

Chief Operations Officer, NACDI

Ed's professional experience includes twenty-seven years of educational, corporate, and administrative leadership. He has served as assistant professor at the University of Minnesota - Duluth where he taught strategic management, human resources, project management, and operations within the Master's of Tribal Administration and Governance program (MTAG). Ed holds a doctorate in Educational Policy and Administration from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, and currently serves as Chief Operations Officer at the Native American Community Development Institute in Minneapolis.

Alexandra Buffalohead

Arts & Cultural Engagement Manager, NACDI

Alex Buffalohead (Bdewakantowan Dakota, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate) is an artist, curator, and musician. She is the Arts and Cultural Engagement Manager at the Native American Community Development Institute and All My Relations Arts Gallery in Minneapolis. Buffalohead is a 2019 Emerging Curator Institute Fellow and has curated exhibitions at High Point Center for Printmakers in Minneapolis, Artistry's Inez Greenberg Gallery in Bloomington, and a music series at the Cedar in Minneapolis. Buffalohead earned a BA from Augsburg University, an AS from the Art Institute International of Minnesota, and an MA from the University of Saint Thomas.

David Malda, ASLA, LEED AP

Principal, GGN

David Malda is a key design leader at the landscape architecture firm GGN. His work explores the role of landscape in connecting people to each other through experiences of the land. Recent and current projects include the vision plan for John Treviño Jr. Metropolitan Park in Austin, Texas, the Civic Park at Hemisfair in San Antonio, Texas, and Lincoln Park at the Long Beach Civic Center in California. Narrative and engagement informs his designs, resulting in projects with impacts that extend beyond their sites. David’s emphasis on drawing and making throughout the design process is central to his role within the office, and he shares this knowledge in numerous studio reviews and student engagements throughout the year. David holds a Masters in Architecture and a Masters of Landscape Architecture from the University of Virginia.

Lama Hasan, ASLA

Associate, GGN

Lama Hasan is a designer and project manager at GGN. Her work has encompassed universal accessibility, educational programming, and restoration of native ecology and materials in public, academic, and institutional spaces. She has focused her professional experience around campus environments and cultural and historic projects, bringing her experience working on relevant projects like the National Museum of Natural History and the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in Washington, DC, to her work at GGN. Growing up in the Middle East, she spent time exploring ancient sites and local agriculture and is particularly interested in using analysis and design as an impetus for rebuilding lost cultural connections, empowering communities, and healing damaged land. Lama holds a Master of Landscape Architecture and a Bachelor of Arts in Public and Urban Affairs, both from Virginia Tech.

Daniel D'Oca

Principal, Interboro

Daniel D’Oca, Principal, is an urban planner. At Interboro, Daniel is responsible for planning and community engagement. He leads projects that involve working with many constituents and stakeholders in intensive public participation processes. Daniel takes an innovative, holistic approach to community engagement, and he has successfully executed dozens of customized engagement campaigns around the country. Most recently Daniel led community outreach during the three-year effort of developing a Citywide Plan for Cambridge, MA and the outreach-driven design process for the Forest Park Natural Playscape in St. Louis. Daniel is also Associate Professor in Practice in Urban Planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design where he has led three classes about indigenous development and land reclamation.

Andrew Wald, AICP

Associate Principal, Interboro

Andrew Wald, AICP, Associate Principal, is a multi-disciplinary designer and project manager who directs Interboro’s Detroit office. At Interboro, Andrew has managed public-sector projects including the national award-winning Campau/Davison/Banglatown Neighborhood Framework Plan in Detroit; After School Detroit, a city-wide study and reuse strategy for 63 historic vacant school properties in Detroit; and the newly-opened, 17-acre Anne O’C Albrecht Natural Playscape Project in St. Louis’ Forest Park. Born and raised in Minnesota, he has an M.Arch from the University of Michigan and a B.A. in History from Pomona College.

Elsa Matossian Hoover Mäki

Designer, Interboro

Elsa Matossian Hoover Mäki is a designer and writer from Minnesota. A graduate of Minneapolis South High School and Columbia University (BA Architecture), Elsa is completing her Master of Architecture degree at Harvard GSD. Elsa is an editor-at-large with the Avery Review and has held design positions at DeVetter Design Group, MASS Design Group, and Kohn Pedersen Fox. At DeVetter, she worked on numerous public-school projects in the Twin Cities area, from engagement and visioning through construction. She was also a member of the creative team and design/build leader for Haŋyétu Wówapi Thípi (Night Library) at Northern Spark Arts Festival 2019 on Franklin Avenue.

Board of Directors

The Friends of the Falls Board of Directors is comprised of Native and non-Native leaders who have a deep commitment to public service, placemaking, cultural and educational enrichment, and empowering Native communities.

Shelley Buck


Shelley Buck became President of Friends of the Falls 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 Lower Phalen Creek Project in St. Paul. She also held the position of Alternate Regional VP for the National Congress of American Indians.

Mark Andrew

Mark Andrew served as President of Friends of the Falls from October 2019 to January 2023. 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; 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


Kevin J. Armstrong is General Counsel and Chief Legal Officer for Docupace Technologies. Armstrong is a high impact global financial services executive, regulatory attorney, and ethics expert 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 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

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, and is on the board of Preserve Minneapolis. She previously served on the board of Mississippi Riverfront Partnership. 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.

Peter L. Gove

Peter Gove held executive positions in corporate communications and government relations with Control Data and St. Jude Medical. In the public sector, Peter was Governor Wendell R. Anderson’s environmental assistant, MPCA Commissioner, founding member of the Environmental Quality Board, U.S. Senate Legislative Director and Assistant Director of the National Park Service. He is the principal founder and board member of Friends of the Mississippi River, past chair of the St. Croix River Association, on The Trust for Public Land’s Minnesota Advisory Board and NPCA Upper Midwest Council, a trustee of Northland College and the Great Lakes Protection Fund, and an Episcopal Homes of Minnesota board member.

John Koepke

John Koepke is a Professor of Landscape Architecture in the College of Design at the University of Minnesota and the Department’s former Chair. Along with his responsibilities as a Full Professor he is a principle at the firm Urban Ecosystems LLC. Because of his Ojibwe heritage John has had significant interests in both Native American cultures and environmental science. This has led him to conduct landscape-based research on ancient Native American sites and work with tribal and other communities in pursuing teaching and design opportunities that focus on environmental education, ecological restoration and reclamation. He holds a 5-year professional Bachelor’s of Landscape Architecture degree from the University of Minnesota and a Master’s degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Washington. He was recently elected as a Fellow of the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture.

Senator Mary Kunesh

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 41, 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 Minority 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

Greg Lais is a successful entrepreneur, avid outdoorsman, and longtime adventurer. He founded Wilderness Inquiry in 1978 after a trip to the Boundary Waters involving people with disabilities. Now, 40 years later, the belief that people of all abilities can enjoy and benefit from the outdoors continues to be at the heart of Wilderness Inquiry’s mission. Greg’s passion for connecting people to each other and the natural world is truly inspirational. As Executive Director of Wilderness Inquiry, Greg Lais directed the organization’s growth and development, collaborating with cross-sector partners to build a world-class organization that directly serves more than 40,000 people annually. In addition to his role as chief architect of Wilderness Inquiry’s mission, vision and programming, Greg has personally led more than 400 outdoor adventure experiences throughout the world, successfully integrating people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities. Greg Lais recognizes people’s personal, socio-economic, and cultural differences, but he focuses on their common humanity and connects with everyone. Today, Greg Lais is Wilderness Inquiry’s Director of Strategic initiatives, guiding the organization to success over the next 40 years. He also serves on the Metropolitan State University Foundation Board of Directors as well as Governor Walz’s Outdoor Recreation Task Force.

Maggie Lorenz

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 Lower Phalen Creek Project, 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 Friends of the Falls Board, Maggie serves on the board of directors for the F. R. Bigelow Foundation, Tiwahe Foundation, and the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities, American Indian Advisory Board. She obtained her Bachelors’ degree from Metropolitan State University in 2010.

Austin Owen

My name is Austin Owen, Tasia popo dowan is my Dakota name which means meadowlark singer. I live in St. Paul and represent Tinta wita Bdewankanton Prairie Island Dakota and the Hopi nation.

I'm one of many grandchildren to Amos Owen, a well known Dakota man who brought Dakota spirituality and reconciliation to this state of Minnesota and the world. As I've come into age I've tried my best to continue to follow in those footsteps through the teachings of my father Art Owen and uncle Raymond Owen.

At an early age I had the privilege working alongside my father who was a prominent figure in bringing buffalo back to the Dakota people. Daily at the Edwin Buck Jr. Memorial Buffalo Project I would learn the importance of the relationship we have with the buffalo, and teachings that we have to honor their existence. Much like native american people we were both pushed to the brink of extinction and now we are starting to see a resurgence of both.

Throughout my life I've been finding my place through ceremony, Dakota history, and trying to learn the language. I find that this knowledge is what connects all native people of this country to our true identity and connection to the land, environment, and relationships between the two and four legged who walk this earth.

I also have a deep passion for music. I'm over twenty years invested as a DJ spinning vinyl and carrying crates, to now in the digital era. I've received a degree in audio engineering from the Los Angeles Recording School. Upon graduating in 2008 I've gone on to work as an artist in many varieties of the industry from major events to local venues, I've encountered many environments of the entertainment industry.

Most of my music I write and speak consciously about who I am, what I embody as an artist, while integrating aspects of culture into the hip hop elements. As an artist and DJ I represent Rez Rap Records, and Freshwater Deejays.

When I'm not involved in music, I also work with the American Indian Prison Project. Our goal is to continue changing the concept and definition of restorative justice using our culture, and values to reconnect our incarcerated relatives to their heritage, and sacred teachings.

Paul Reyelts

Co-Founder & Chair

Paul Reyelts was the Chief Financial Officer of The Valspar Corporation from 1982 until 2008 and retired in 2009 to pursue his interest in design. He received a Bachelor of Arts in architecture from Harvard College and an MBA from Harvard Business School. Paul is a director of Winmark Corporation and Schafer Richardson Development, a member of the Advisory Board of the University of Minnesota College of Design and serves on the Boards of Directors of The Minneapolis Foundation, MacPhail Center for Music, The Minneapolis Parks Foundation and Gold Medal Park Conservancy. He is currently chair of the RiverFirst Capital Campaign and is co-founder and Chair of the Board of Friends of the Falls.

Kit Richardson

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.

Cris Stainbrook

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

A lineal descendant of the Wahpeton-Sisseton and Mdewakanton Dakota tribes and lifetime Minnesota native, Dana Thompson has worked for nearly a decade within the food sovereignty movement. As co-owner and chief operating officer of The Sioux Chef, she manages all business development strategies for the company. She has traveled extensively throughout tribal communities, engaging in critical ways to improve food access and implementing strategies to do the most possible good as a social entrepreneur.

In 2018, Dana jointly founded the non-profit NĀTIFS (North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems) for which she is executive director. Through this entity, she focuses her expertise on addressing and treating ancestral trauma through decolonized perspectives of honoring and leveraging Indigenous wisdom. In 2021, Dana and her business partner Chef Sean Sherman opened Owamni by The Sioux Chef, Minnesota’s first full service Indigenous restaurant, featuring healthy Indigenous food and drinks.

Prior to her work with The Sioux Chef and NĀTIFS, Dana worked for over twenty years as a lead marketing specialist — overseeing product merchandising, marketing, special events, talent management, media relations, and project management in diverse industries and settings.

An acclaimed jazz and Americana vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and music producer, Dana has released seven albums.

Image credit: Heidi Ehalt.

Angela Two Stars

Angela Two Stars is a public artist and curator. She is the director of All My Relations Arts, a project of the Native American Community Development Institute in Minneapolis, MN. Angela is an enrolled member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate and received her BFA from Kendall College of Art and Design. Angela 's professional arts career began at All My Relations Arts gallery as an exhibiting artist, which then led to further opportunities including her first curatorial role for the exhibition titled, Bring Her Home, Stolen Daughters of Turtle Island, a powerful exhibition highlighting the ongoing epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Angela 's public art graces the shores of Bde Maka Ska and honors the Dakota people of Mni Sota. Angela was selected as the finalist for the Walker Art Center’s Indigenous Public Art Commission; her sculpture Okciyapi (Help Each Other) was unveiled in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden in fall 2021.

Mark Wilson

Co-Founder & Vice-Chair

Mark Wilson is of counsel with the Minneapolis law firm of Henson Efron and focuses on commercial real estate development and business transactions. He 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 Mr. Wilson enjoys whitewater rafting and skiing, and is a cum laude graduate of Carleton College and the University of Minnesota Law School.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is The Falls Initiative?

The Falls Initiative is an effort to create a place of healing at Owámniyomni, St. Anthony Falls, on 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 Friends of the Falls?

Friends of the Falls is a non-profit organization that has been working since 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.

Friends of the Falls 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?

Coalition building and community engagement began years ago, in 2016. In 2023, we anticipate the property will be conveyed, or transferred, from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the City of Minneapolis or its designee. Small scale changes may occur on-site in the next 2-3 years (2024-2025), but significant site transformation will not take place for at least five years (2028+).

Who will own it?

Friends of the Falls is advocating for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to maintain ownership and operations of the Upper Lock itself.

Property adjacent to the lock – about 3 acres – will be conveyed, or transferred, from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the City of Minneapolis or its designee. If the City takes ownership, it would serve as a short-term owner.

Friends of the Falls, the City, and Park Board – in partnership with the four Dakota Tribal Nations in Mní Sóta – are assessing various structures for long-term ownership of the site. Tribal ownership is one possible scenario.

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, Friends of the Falls has committed $7.7 million and the State of Minnesota has committed $2.8 million via a Legislative-Citizen Commission for Minnesota Resources grant.

We are currently assembling cost estimates for site preparation, construction, and ongoing operations. Friends of the Falls anticipates launching a capital campaign to support the project in 2023.

Is the Friends of the Falls (and its partners the City of Minneapolis and Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board) coordinating with Great River Passage Conservancy?

Great River Passage Conservancy is a partner of the City of St. Paul and leads advocacy and fundraising efforts for three projects along the Mississippi River – Mississippi River Learning Center, River Balcony, and East Side River District. 

Friends of the Falls is not affiliated with Great River Passage Conservancy, though we share an interest in creating meaningful places on the riverfront in both of the Twin Cities.

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

The property that will be conveyed to the City of Minneapolis or its designee for The Falls Initiative abuts land owned by the Park 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.

Friends of the Falls 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.

Since the Upper Lock closed to commercial navigation, the National Park Service (NPS) and its non-profit partner Mississippi Park Connection (MPC) have activated the site by hosting visitor services, tours, and arts and education programs.

These National Park Service and Mississippi Park Connection programs are made possible by a use agreement between NPS and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is expected to continue owning the lock structure. We anticipate NPS and MPC to be long-term partners at the lock, though the scale of future operations is not yet known and will be determined based on Dakota tribal leaders’ final vision for this place.

Why has Friends of the Falls put Native voices in the lead?

Centering The Falls Initiative on Native 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.

What is the Native Partnership Council?

Friends of the Falls, NACDI, and CDA Enterprises 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. All four Mní Sóta Dakota Tribal Nations were invited to participate. Additional Council members were identified from the following categories: History Keepers, Spiritual Leadership, Artists, Environmental, Youth/Young Adult, and Exiled Dakota Descendants.

At the conclusion of the first season, the Native Partnership Council released this 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.

What is the ‘first season’ of work?

The ‘first season’ refers to our work in 2021 and 2022 engaging the Native Partnership Council, hosting Community Conversations, and weaving together community voices. The first season resulted in the Native Partnership Council’s vision statement, four guiding principles, and early design ideas.

What guiding principles are the early design ideas based on?

Guiding principles were established during the first season of work that acknowledge Indigenous worldviews and values. The four principles are: 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).

What are the early design ideas?

The early ideas are to create a place of healing, restoration, and learning. The site could include gathering places for ceremony and healing, recognition of the former site of Spirit Island, interpretive signage, art, and places to connect physically with the river.

Why not remove the Upper Lock and Dam?

Removal of the lock and dam was considered as part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ draft disposition study. Removal was not considered financially viable or beneficial to the river’s ecosystem.

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.

If the lock was removed, its function as part of the damming surface would be lost. Significant investment would be required to extend the spillway and block the opening caused by removing the lock. Additionally, removal would increase the possibility of upriver intakes for Minneapolis water supply running dry in low water.

Furthermore, members of The Falls Initiative Native Partnership Council were in favor of retaining and repurposing the lock rather than removing it. Removing the lock would conceal its role in the desecration of the Falls and Spirit Island. 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 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:

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.

Friends of the Falls has not taken a position in support or opposition of removing Lower Lock or Lock #1.

For more information: