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
Name-Change Movement

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, go to

More information on naming of geographic features can be found at