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Public Engagement

Community Engagement Process

The Falls Initiative Community Engagement Plan outlines a framework for centering Native voices in discussions about the future of Owámniyomni and property adjacent to the Upper Lock that is currently in federal ownership.

Across all phases of engagement, 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
  • The greater BIPOC community and those engaged in the work of truth and reconciliation, recognizing the importance of acknowledging their shared experience of racism

Public meetings, online engagement, and outreach to key stakeholders were channels to broaden the conversation and bring the Native Partnership Council in dialogue with all members of the community.

These engagement opportunities were focused on the following key topics, in addition to themes identified by the Native Partnership Council:

  • Indigenous Perspectives: Re-centering Native connections to Owámniyomni and the site
  • Environmental Restoration: Ecological sustainability and the health of the River
  • Programming & Activities: Public use and activation
  • Connectivity: Blue, green and gray access
  • Business and Tourism: Financial sustainability and economic opportunities


Phase 1


2016 – 2019 : Complete

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 it turning into a hydropower facility. They are supportive of the site being redeveloped in the public interest 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


2020 : Complete

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
  • Raise awareness about Friends of the Falls’ commitment to center the project on Native voices

Key Outcomes

  • Early concepts and designs for the project were set aside to allow for creation of a true shared vision for the site.
  • Friends of the Falls established a contract relationship with the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI). NACDI provided regular mentorship and training to Friends of the Falls’ staff and board and facilitated outreach with the Native American community.
  • Friends of the Falls and NACDI extended the engagement timeline, adding Phases 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 to steer the process.
  • Public engagement was challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic and the community grief and social unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd. Friends of the Falls pivoted to virtual engagement whenever possible, but communities were focused on urgent and pressing issues, and most engagement events were under attended.
  • 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


2021 : Complete

Key Objectives

  • Create and 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
  • Clarify questions about site ownership and distinguish between land anticipated to be transferred to the City of Minneapolis and remaining federal property

Key Outcomes

  • The City of Minneapolis, represented by Mayor Jacob Frey and Council Member Steve Fletcher, requested Government to Government consultation between the City of Minneapolis and the elected leaders of the four Dakota Tribes in Mni Sota. The Mayor reiterated his commitment at the first meeting of the Native Partnership Council.
  • Carrie Day Aspinwall of CDA Enterprises joined the engagement team as facilitator of the Native Partnership Council.
  • The first meeting of the Partnership Council, a Ki Ceremony, ensured we started the process in a good way.
  • Council member stories’ coalesced into four main themes, which were featured in Phase 4 Community Conversations.
  • The City of Minneapolis and Friends of the Falls defined terms for a memorandum of understanding, recognizing the Friends as the City’s agent in negotiations with the Army Corps.

Phase 4


January – June 2022 : Complete

Key Objectives

  • Facilitate intensive period of public conversation and build a bridge between the Native Partnership Council and non-Native community members
  • Advance the transfer of property from federal to local control
  • Weave together Native Partnership Council direction and public input to inform early concept designs for the site

Key Outcomes

  • The City of Minneapolis and Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board approved an MOU with Friends of the Falls and endorsed its Community Engagement Plan.
  • Friends of the Falls and NACDI hosted a series of five Community Conversations, bridging Native and non-Native communities and generating discourse about the Falls grounded in Indigenous perspectives.
  • An Immersive Exhibit showcased the engagement process, site history, and provided 360 degree views of the Upper Lock.
  • Two interactive online surveys allowed community members to share their connections to the River and envision a future for this place.
  • GGN and VJAA shared illustrative design ideas, reflective of the priorities of the Native Partnership Council and broader community feedback.

Phase 5


July – August 2022 : Complete

Key Objectives

  • Clarify a shared vision that aligns the priorities and values of the Native Partnership Council with feedback received from the broader public
  • 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 & NACDI launched a Partnership & Programming Study, inviting Interboro Partners, MIGIZI, and Division of Indian Work to initiate focused discussions with Native-led organizations and potential partners.

Phase 6


November 2022 – March 2023

Key Objectives

  • Present early design ideas for Owámniyomni, reflective of the Native Partnership Council’s vision
  • Advance negotiations with the Army Corps of Engineers regarding conveyance of land
  • Continue Partnership & Programming Study, identifying programmatic requirements for the site
  • Evaluate models for ownership & operations of this place

Key Outcomes

  • The Native Partnership Council released a statement reflecting the first season of work (September 2021-September 2022) and vision for Owámniyomni.
  • GGN and and VJAA released early design ideas for this place, open for public comment.
  • Outcomes of Phase 6 are ongoing.

What We Heard

Community Conversations

Friends of the Falls and NACDI launched a five-part Community Conversation series in February 2022 to educate and engage the public on topics that would inform decision-making about programming and design.

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, develop a shared understanding of Indigenous perspectives, and solicit feedback about the future of Owámniyomni.

Watch recordings of the five-part Community Conversation series.

Graphic Recordings

Just as artist Michelle Buchholz  bore witness to sessions of the Native Partnership Council, Friends of the Falls and NACDI engaged the artist collective 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.