Isanti-Chisago County Star article, published on October 4, 2012
Putting spirit back in the Rum
By Anthony Erickson
"Mutations of the passing years, the laughter, toil, the hopes,
and tears of people gone and yet to be" is what the Rum River
seemed to Roe Chase, in his poem aptly titled, "Rum River."
The great river has taken on many names in passing years,
and yet another mutation seems to be happening.
Thomas Ivan Dahlheimer, director and founder of the Rum
River Name-Change Movement, plans to make that mutation
happen, and correct a mis-translation that happened many years ago.
Around the turn of the 18th century, white settlers gave the
river its current name, Rum, since that was the most common
spirituous liquor brought into the Northwest at that time.
Tom Dahlheimer is working
to change the name of the
Rum River back to its orgins,
as part of the Rum River
To the Dakota people of the area, the river is sacred, and their
ancestors knew the river as a super highway.
Dahlheimer's mission and goal is to revise the river's
name to the native Dakota name, Wakpa Wakan.
When translated from Sioux language to English,
Wakpa Wakan means "Spirit River," Wakpa means
river, Wakan meaning spirit.
"Wakan," said Dahlheimer, is the essence of all life,
pervading all nature, animate and inanimate."
In order for a geographic place name to be changed
in Minnesota, the name has to be reasonably
considered "derogatory" by a local resident.
That resident has to request the DNR's
assistance for the name to be legally changed.
Running through Mille Lacs, Sherburne, Isanti and Anoka
counties, the Rum River extends 153 miles from Mille
Lacs Lake and connects to the Mississippi River.
The Mdewakanton Dakota Oyate, one of the sub-tribes
of the Isanti natives, are the people of Chief
Wabasha, who "would be grateful if city councils
of the counties located on the Watpa Wakan would
invite the Dakota people to their cities to meet
and share their different cultures by
establishing alliances," said Dahlheimer.
Minnesota Statutes 83A.04 - 83A.07 guide the
statutory process for naming geographic features:
- County boards naming geographic features must have
approval of a commissioner of natural resources
- A hearing on a name-change petition
- Names cannot be duplicated
According to a DNR staff member for Minnesota geographic
name changes, Peter Boulay, "there are three levels of approval for a name."
Changing the name of a geographic location involves a complicated
process of establishing a joint-county hearing from all the
counties the river resides in. The request then will go
to the DNR commissioner of natural resources for approval.
After that, Boulay will forward it to the U.S. Board
of Geographic Names.
Each county board would have to schedule a public hearing
where all the county boards would meet. A majority of
the boards would be needed for a name change to be approved.
"By the time I see a request on my desk, it's gone through
the big test as to whether the public likes the name or not.
That's the big thing," Boulay explained.
"According to the supervisor of hydrographics at the DNR,
about 40 names of natural resources in Minnesota have
been changed since 1982," Dahlheimer said. "I expect
the name change to happen in about ten years."
To help drive this movement along, local people in the four counties
can call together a group of name-change supporters to distribute
literature, write and send letters to organizations, and to
stage a peaceful protest against the derogatory 'Rum' River
name," Dahlheimer said.
For more information and to contact Dahlheimer,
More information on naming of geographic features
can be found at www.dnr.state.mn.us/waters/surfacewater_section/hydrographics/naming_features