Chef Sean Sherman prepares Indigenous meals for the Intertribal Foods Festival at the Powwow Arena adjacent to the Red Lake Nation College in 2016. Sherman's restaurant Owamni was awarded Best New Restaurant in the nation Monday night. Credit: Monika Lawrence for MPR News 2016

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If you have tried and waited to get a table at Owamni, you may find yourself waiting a little longer. The innovative Indigenous restaurant won the prestigious James Beard Foundation award for the Best New Restaurant in the nation.

Co-owners Dana Thompson and Chef Sean Sherman accepted the award at the Lyric Opera in Chicago Monday evening.

“Owamni… is more like a community spirit than anything else,” said Thompson. She greeted the audience in her Dakota language, “Hihanni waste.”

Sherman said they were thinking about the impact of colonialism on Indigenous peoples and communities of color.

“When we opened up we coined the term ‘hashtag ‘86 colonialism,’” said Sherman. “Because a lot of us people of color from everywhere have been affected by colonialism.”

Sherman emphasized the resilience of Indigenous communities in the culinary industry.

“We have this as showing that we can get through that — that we’re still here,” said Sherman. “You know, our people are here. Our ancestors are proud tonight because we’re doing something different. We’re putting health on the table. We’re putting culture on the table, and we’re putting our stories on the table.”

Owamni opened its doors in 2021 and shares its name with the place at the historic falls along the Mississippi River — Wakpa Tanka, as Dakota people say.

Thompson credited the Minneapolis Parks Foundation and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board for raising funds and giving the restauranteurs a place on the Mississippi River, which she said could be a model for others.

She also thanked Owamni’s staff, more than three-quarters of whom are Indigenous.

The 2022 awards ceremony was carried live on the foundation’s Twitter account.

In the best regional chef category, Dane Baldwin of the Milwaukee restaurant The Diplomat bested several Minneapolis chefs, including Sherman. The other nominated chefs were Jorge Guzmán of Petite León and Yia Vang of Union Hmong Kitchen.

Melissa Olson (she/hers) is a writer and a freelance journalist. Most recently, she was Deputy Director of MIGIZI Communications, a non-profit serving American Indian Youth in Minneapolis, and was the...