Community Engagement Process

It is our intent to provide a forum for all members of the community to participate in the engagement process and contribute their thoughts, ideas, and priorities. We also acknowledge that the site of the Upper Lock is within Dakota homeland, and that the conspicuously missing story within this historic district is that of its first inhabitants. Therefore, our engagement process is structured to center Native voices and seek a fuller understanding of Indigenous experience in our community and on this site. Click here to view the complete Community Engagement Plan.

At the heart of the engagement process is the Native Partnership Council, a group formed to steer the planning process and shape priorities from an Indigenous perspective. These leaders share stories, cultural values, and priorities for this place. They are also stewards of the River and advocates for those who cannot speak for themselves – the four legged, the fish, the winged. The Partnership Council meets in circle, listening and developing strategies to find consensus according to traditional Indigenous governance processes.

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

Community Conversations and public engagement opportunities are focused on the following key topics:

  • Indigenous Perspectives: Re-centering Native connections to the Falls 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

Resources have been allocated to connect meaningfully with key audiences:

  • 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

The team shares feedback between the Native Partnership Council and the general public, building a bridge between the audiences and weaving their input together.

Native Partnership Council

At the heart of the engagement process is the Native Partnership Council, a group formed to share stories about this place, consider the site from an Indigenous perspective, and set guiding principles for the project.

All four Mni Sota Dakota Tribal leaders were invited to participate in the Council or to name a representative. Additional Council members were identified from the following categories: History Keepers, Spiritual Leadership, Artists, Environmental, Youth/Young Adult and Exiled Dakota Descendants. Members of the Council include:

  • Shelley Buck, Vice-President, Prairie Island Indian Community
  • Jewell Arcoren, Dakota Lakota, enrolled member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate
  • Juanita Espinosa, enrolled member of the Spirit Lake Nation, Turtle Mountain and LCO Descendant
  • Wakinyan LaPointe, Sicangu Lakota
  • Maggie Lorenz, Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe, descendant of Spirit Lake Dakota Nation
  • Mona Smith, Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota

We continue to seek the expertise of our Dakota relatives, and welcome your interest in participating in the Native Parntership Council.

Meetings of the Native Partnership Council are facilitated by Carrie Day Aspinwall (Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Minneapolis Urban Band Member).

The initial meeting of the Native Partnership Council was held on September 24, 2021 in the form of a Ki Ceremony. ‘Ki’ means ‘to arrive back to where one started, to return’ in the Dakota language. In addition to Council members, the Ki Ceremony was attended by spiritual leader Chief Arvol Looking Horse, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, Council Member Steve Fletcher, and stakeholders of the Central Riverfront.

View feedback and direction of the Native Partnership Council on the Engagement page.


The engagement process is structured to advance the following goals and principles:

  • Prioritize Native voices and experience
  • Uphold the principle of public access
  • Cultivate a holistic understanding of the Central Riverfront and the Mississippi River
  • Connect people to the river
  • Demonstrate responsiveness to the direction and values of the Native community (via the Native Partnership Council) and other stakeholders
  • Cultivate opportunities for truth telling and healing

We are committed to a series of methods designed to advance equity and inclusion throughout the life of the project, including:

  • GOAL | Center Native voices in the process.
    • METHOD | Form a Native Partnership Council to steer the engagement process and the project.
    • METHOD | Co-brand engagement efforts. Create a co-branded initiative in partnership with the Native American Community Development Institute and establish equal authority over public project communications.
  • GOAL | Seek alignment between Indigenous perspectives and public engagement outcomes. 
    • METHOD | The design consulting team will weave together Native Partnership Council guidance and public input from outreach and Community Conversations to create a positive feedback loop moving toward alignment.
  • GOAL | Incorporate the creative community as a partner in the engagement process.
    • METHOD | Document key outcomes through graphic recording. 
    • METHOD | Richly document Native Partnership Council meetings and Community Conversations with photography and video, and explore storytelling through media as an engagement tool.
  • GOAL | Contribute to the City’s goals for equity and economic inclusion in contracting and project outcomes.  
    • METHOD | Meet or exceed the goals established by the City for inclusive hiring and contracting throughout the planning, design and implementation of the project.

A series of City of Minneapolis policies informed the engagement process for The Falls Initiative, including: Core Principles of Community Engagement from the International Association of Public Participation (adopted by the City of Minneapolis in 2007); the Blueprint for Equitable Engagement (2016); the Strategic & Racial Equity Action Plan (2019); and, a memorandum of understanding between the City and the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors (MUID) on behalf of the American Indian Community (2003, 2011, 2017).


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.
  • Phase 3 was completed at the end of 2021. Additional outcomes will be identified and reported in early 2022.

Phase 4


January – June 2022

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
  • Facilitate decision-making about long term ownership and operation of the site

Phase 5


July – August 2022

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

Phase 6


September 2022 – March 2023

Key Objectives

  • Present design alternatives for Native Partnership Council consideration and public review