The City Council has approved having Friends of the Falls serve as the City’s agent in negotiations with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over the acquisition of federal land surrounding the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock & Dam. The agreement also has the organization paying all costs associated with the transfer of land into municipal ownership, which is anticipated to happen later this year.
“We’re moving together as a team with the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board to center Native voices as we envision the future of the riverfront,” said Mayor Jacob Frey. “This agreement with the City represents a key benchmark in our work to make the most of this space and enhance community access.”
“This is an exciting opportunity to celebrate the spectacular environmental birthplace of Minneapolis and to also work with our Native American community,” said Council Member Michael Rainville, whose ward includes St. Anthony Falls. “We need to recognize the importance of this land to the people who’ve been here long before the city was ever founded.”
Friends of the Falls is a non-profit organization focused on building public understanding of the falls and its importance to Indigenous communities. Both the City and Friends of the Falls have been advocating for the transfer of land to municipal control since 2016 in an effort to transform the site into a community asset and restore public access to the riverfront.
The falls and surrounding land are of spiritual significance to the Dakota people and other Native communities. In 2019, Friends of the Falls started working with the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI) and Dakota Nations on plans for the land’s future use.
"We have been honored to convene elected tribal leaders, Native elders, artists and youth in the Native Partnership Council, to learn from their stories and gain a deeper understanding of Indigenous perspectives of the sacred falls,” said Mark Andrew, president of Friends of the Falls.
"The commitment of Friends of the Falls, in partnership with NACDI, to center Native voices - the voices of the descendants of the First People of this land - is groundbreaking,” said Robert Lilligren, president and CEO of NACDI. “We have the opportunity to show the world a pathway toward addressing our country's colonizing history with a more just present and future. And a means to respecting the rights of nature, water, and the river herself."
The Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board approved the memorandum of understanding at its Jan. 19 meeting. Friends of the Falls will work with City and Park Board staff in ongoing community outreach and future planning.
In addition to authorizing the memorandum of understanding with Friends of the Falls and the Park Board, the City Council also approved a community engagement plan to consider future public uses for the site and to establish long-term ownership and stewardship for acquired land. A series of community conversations are now scheduled.
"The community conversation series launches on the heels of this pivotal agreement with the City,” Mark Andrew added. “The public events are an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to centering Native voices and to bring the Native Partnership Council in dialogue with all members of our community."
The first community conversation is 5-7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 15. Karen Diver, University of Minnesota Senior Advisor to the President for Native American Affairs and former advisor for Native American Affairs for the Obama administration, will join community leaders Robert Lilligren, Carrie Day Aspinwall, Jewell Arcoren, Juanita Espinosa and Wakinyan LaPointe to discuss how the project can be approached from an Indigenous perspective. The meeting is virtual and open to everyone. For more information and to register, go to thefalls.org.