With a Menu of Indigenous Ingredients, Owamni Is a Must-Visit Dining Destination

A drum sits beside sage at Owamni.

Photographed by Jaida Grey Eagle

I managed to hold back my tears, but I probably could have just gone ahead and let them flow, since Thompson and Sherman told me emotional reactions are a somewhat frequent occurrence here. “We have guests every single week, if not every day, that are welling up, some crying into the food in front of them,” Thompson told me. “They understand that this food was systematically removed from their ancestors or the people that lived here before them. Reclaiming this is a profound thing.”

After my meal, I wandered outside, where Lumhe and Samsoche Sampson (Mvskoke Creek/Seneca)—a.k.a. The Sampson Brothers, were putting on a hoop dance and flute performance for Owamni’s promotional materials. As we enjoyed the show, I spoke about Indigenous food and life in Minneapolis with a bass player, Randy, from Indigenous Minneapolis-based band The Pretendians. Of Owamni, he told me, “My body knows this is what I’m supposed to be eating, that this kind of food is where I belong.”

There’s an inescapable and revolutionary feeling of reclamation here, of return. As you sit on the benches and look at St. Anthony Falls, at the life-giving, sacred river, you start to understand just how much Owamni means. Sherman and Thompson hope that this dining experience will inform the next generation. “It’s been really nice to be able to have some young people to be able to come learn and empower them with this knowledge,” Sherman says. In September 2020, they also opened The Indigenous Food Lab in the Minneapolis Midtown Global Market, a training kitchen for elders to teach traditional techniques to the next generation.. Soon, they will be selling bulk Indigenous foods, like teas, hominy, and tepary beans.

For visitors who are able to get a table (reservations fill up shockingly fast), a meal at Owamni can serve as the start of a journey through Minneapolis, a city rich with Indigenous—mostly Anishinaabe and Lakota—culture. You can peruse Birchbark Books, an Indigenous-owned bookstore, or visit The Gatherings Cafe, an Indigenous dining experience in the Minneapolis American Indian Center. As for where to stay, Moxy Minneapolis Downtown is a short and scenic walk from Owamni, and Hotel Alma is a boutique option with a bustling, James Beard award-winning restaurant of its own, delighting guests with its own apothecary and in-room massages.

“We just have such a wonderful, diverse community here with all the different cultures,” Sherman says of Minneapolis. “We have a large Indigenous population, and large Hmong, Black, Mexican, Ecuadorian communities. I feel like that’s really been so helpful in my journey of being able to listen to so many stories, especially from different tribal communities. There’s so many people who have different memories or skill sets or knowledge. It’s given me an opportunity to grow and to thrive.”

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