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Get to Know Native American Minneapolis

By Todd R. Berger

Some 35,000 people of Native American heritage call the Twin Cities home, and sites across the area have indigenous cultural roots.

Since winning the 2022 James Beard Best New Restaurant in the nation, Owamni by the Sioux Chef in Minneapolis has brought Native American cuisine to the forefront of fine dining in the eyes of foodies. It is one of many indigenous businesses in the Twin Cities. 

Owamni by The Sioux Chef serves foods that have been decolonized, removing all dairy, wheat, refined sugar, beef, chicken, and pork from the menu. They serve dishes with plants, game, and fish, primarily from the area, and use other North American indigenous ingredients and methods. The space, built in the ruins of the flour mills that once inhabited the spot, was also sacred ground to the Dakota and Anishinaabe peoples for thousands of years.

Chef Sean Sherman (Oglala Lakota) and co-owner Dana Thompson (lineal descendant of the Wahpeton-Sisseton and Mdewakanton Dakota tribes) hired primarily Native American staff. They start the shift each day with a sage ceremony and play indigenous music to set the tone. And diners experience the award-winning food alongside the natural beauty and industrial past of the Mississippi riverfront in the window-clad space or on the seasonal patio.

Owamni’s owners also oversee their nonprofit North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NATIFS), where they strive to educate and train others about indigenous foods and restaurant ownership/management to address “the economic and health crises affecting Native communities by re-establishing Native foodways.” Their Indigenous Food Lab, a professional indigenous kitchen and training center, is located at Minneapolis’ Midtown Global Market.

In addition to Owamni by The Sioux Chef, there are many other places in the area where you can try Native American food and beverages:

  • Indigenous Food Lab Market will open in December 2022, also at Midtown Global Market. Showcasing local and national indigenous food makers, craft creators, and more, this new market by Owamni/NATIFS’ owners also will host educational events and cooking demonstrations by local chefs.
  • Four Sisters Farmers Market is an indigenous-focused farmers market centered on providing increased access to affordable, healthy, culturally appropriate local foods within the American Indian Cultural Corridor along Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis.
  • Makwa Coffee opened in Roseville, just north of Minneapolis, in summer 2022.
  • Gatherings Cafe (by Executive Chef Brian Yazzie) at the Minneapolis American Indian Center will reopen after a building renovation in 2024.

There are also many places to shop in the Twin Cities with Native American roots:

  • Birchbark Books is near Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis and owned by renowned Minnesota author Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa), winner of the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (“The Night Watchman”) and multiple other awards.
  • Northland Visions is a gallery and retail space selling original items made by Native American peoples from the Woodland and Plains tribes of the Upper Midwest in what is now Minnesota, the Dakotas, Wisconsin, and other northern states, as well as Canada.
  • Native Roots Trading Post at the Dayton’s Project Winter Maker’s Market in downtown Minneapolis is open through Jan. 13, 2023.

The region honors Native American culture at museums across the Twin Cities: 

  • The Minnesota History Center in St. Paul features “Our Home, Native Minnesota,” an exhibit that encompasses tales of survival, resiliency, and adaptation among indigenous communities in Minnesota.
  • Historic Fort Snelling shares stories of the Native Americans who lived in this region from its location at the Bdote, “where the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers meet,” a sacred spot for the Dakota people and other nations for thousands of years.
  • The Walker Art Center’s Minneapolis Sculpture Garden exhibits “Okciyapi” (“Help Each Other”) by Angela Two Stars, a piece that is simultaneously a sculptural form, a gathering space, and a participatory work that provides a site for visitors to engage with Dakota language.
  • The Minneapolis Institute of Art’s Native American collection includes many items on view in the galleries in this free museum.
  • Makwa Studio is a creative space focusing on textiles, art, and fashion.
  • “Dakota Spirit Walk” is an augmented reality art installation by Marlena Myles in St. Paul.
  • The Sacred Hoop Walk at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in suburban Chaska is an augmented reality art exhibition created by digital artist Marlena Myles, a member of the Spirit Lake Dakota Tribe. Visitors can use an app on their mobile phones to view digital images and audio at stops along the walk to learn about Dakota culture and history.
  • Arts@MSP, the wide-ranging art program at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, has an all-digital art gallery featuring Minnesota Ojibwe artist Jonathan Thunder and his “Manifest’o” exhibit, which is in the terminal connector to Concourse B.

The Twin Cities also has attractions with Native American ties:

  • Water Works Park (Owamni by the Sioux Chef is in the pavilion) features Dakota names on native plants and other acknowledgements at this sacred location for the Dakota people at Minneapolis’ St. Anthony Falls.
  • Mystic Lake Casino Hotel in Shakopee is Minnesota’s largest casino and is owned by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux community. 
  • Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux community Wacipi (Pow Wow) is held annually in August.
  • Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux community Hoċokata Ti Cultural Center is a cultural gathering space with a public exhibit.