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 Haha Wakpa, 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 Wita Wanagi (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.