Promoting Native Environmental Awareness Throughout The "Rum" (Wahkon) River Watershed
By Thomas Ivan Dahlheimer
On May 5, 2014, I attended
an Isanti County Environmental Coalition meeting in central Minnesota. I would have
to get to know the members of the Coalition better before I could say that
they are [all] of the dominant culture. My first impression was that they are of the
dominant culture. I have an Isanti County counter-culture environmental mission.
My Isanti County environmental mission is a part of my broader environmental
mission, which also includes the other nine counties of the
"Rum (Wahkon) River
Wahkon River in Cambridge, Minnesota
mission to promote Native environmental awareness
in Isanti County and throughout the entire
Watershed is associated
my movement to
restore the sacred Native/Dakota name (Wahkon) to the "Rum River."
The Wahkon River or Watpa Wahkon (Spirit River) is a sacred site to the
Lakota/Dakota and Mille Lacs Band of Ojbwe, a band of
Several years ago, a Native American environmental activist,
David Gonzales, was fortunate to get a counter-culture article of his published in
the Star Tribune, Minnesota's best-selling state wide daily newspaper. It advocated the formation of a group of Indigenous environmental
activists who would canoe from Mille Lacs Lake down the badly named "Rum River" to its confluence with
the Mississippi River. And do so, "in an effort to change the dominant culture's collective
attitude toward the rivers in particular and water in general." The plan was to stop along the way
and set up colorful tepees and camps at key environmental locations along the river as
"environmental schools" to promote Indigenous/Native environmental awareness.
Indigenous people's traditional/pagan environmental awareness is radically
different than the dominate culture's environmental "awareness," an "awareness"
that is highly influenced by Christianity. A document mandated by the UN
sponsored Convention on Biological Diversity, the Global Biodiversity
Assessment, explicitly refers to Christianity as a faith that has set humans apart
from nature and stripped nature of its sacred qualities. The document states:
"Conversion to Christianity has therefore meant an abandonment of an affinity
with the natural world for many forest dwellers, peasants, fishers all
over the world ...The northeastern hilly states of India bordering
China and Myanmar supported small scale, largely autonomous shifting
cultivator societies until the 1950's. These people followed their
own religious traditions that included setting apart between 10% and 30% of
the landscape as sacred groves and ponds."
The world renowned environmentalist Al Gore wrote, in his
Earth in the Balance: The spiritual
sense of our place in nature predates Native American cultures; increasingly it
can be traced to the origins of human civilization...the prevailing ideology of belief in
prehistoric Europe and much of the world was based on the
worship of a single earth goddess...The last vestige of
organized goddess worship was eliminated by Christianity as
late as the fifteenth century in Lithuania.
In spite of the value of Native American environmental awareness
and the value of the environmental spirituality of all the indigenous
peoples residing throughout the
Western Hemisphere, the Christian church has been trying, since the European Christian
invasion of the Americas, to completely eliminate it by genocidal
colonization processes - it is a
mission fueled by racism, religious bigotry and corporate greed - which has been ongoing
for 500 plus years.
Thomas Berry, the late Catholic priest and
world-renowned ecotheologian; who taught
college classes on indigenous peoples' eco-conscious religions...said that Christianity
promotes "deep cultural pathology of human greed and addiction." While referring to himself and
all other believers, Berry said that we should "put the Bible on the shelf for twenty years" and
"the only effective program available as our primary guide toward a viable human mode of being
is the program offered by the Earth itself."
Berry's beliefs departed far from the teachings of "traditional Christianity," a term
often used to refer to Christianity in general. While using this definition
of Christianity, Berry went so far as to promote a "post-Christian
belief system": "the world is being called to a new post-denominational, even post-Christian,
belief system that sees the Earth as a living being - mythologically, as Gaia, Mother
Earth - with mankind as her consciousness."
Berry claimed that the Christian story is no longer the story of the Earth or the integral story of
humankind. Evidently, Berry believed that the Catholic Church should now be
disestablished and its members supplanted into
a new post-Christian church. This is
what I believe should and will occur.
Both Indigenous/Native environmental leaders and non-indigenous
environmentalists (like myself) who have abandon the dominate culture to
embrace counter-cultural Indigenous environmental awareness are opposed
to traditional Christianity (including main-line denominational
Christianity in the United States), which I and others believe is environmentally
to the indigenous peoples' eco-conscious traditional/pagan religions and is the
primary cause of the global environmental crisis, which threatens
the extinction of all life on earth.
The spirituality and theology of a somewhat New Age sect of the Episcopal
Church does not fit into my definition of "traditional Christianity"
or "main-line denominational Christianity." The modern-day "revisionists" of
church movement, a global "Christian" movement, are
not of traditional Christianity, and neither is a particular
expression of the creation-centered spirituality movement.
It's called the "New Spirituality."
New Spirituality is the spirituality that the internationally
renowned theologian Reverend Matthew Fox is of and promoting.
CNN International featured him as a theologian speaking for
the environment. I have received his support for the effort to change the
name of the "Rum River." Fox sees the earth as a living being, who
is called Gaia or Mother Earth. Fox is an Episcopal priest.
He is of both the creation-centered spirituality movement
and the emergence church movement.
At one level (where Fox, I and others are at) these movements are a single movement.
The revisionists' expression of the emergence church movement rejects some of
the "essential dogmas" of traditional Christianity. I am of this post-modern so-called
"Christian"/New Spirituality movement. It is compatible with the Native environmental
awareness that I am promoting throughout the Wahkon River
The Earth is a living being: "Instead of living on an inanimate planet, a misty ball of
rock hurtling through space, we can now think of ourselves
as living at home, on our Mother, the Earth. And this is not
just romanticized, speculative, fizzy-headed, spiritual wishful thinking.
The Gaia hypothesis and other components of modern biology
put into contemporary scientific form the ancient spiritual intuition
that this Earth which is our home is a living being." - Dr. Rupert Sheldrake
Two Bible scripture verses, together, advocate imperialism, conquest and
ethocide of [heathen] natives. Driving natives from their sacred heathen/pagan homelands to
expand the white Christian empire was an important part of the Christian colonization mission
to eliminate Native pagan eco-conscious religions.
"The Lord said...I shall give thee the heathen for thine
inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.
Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces
like a potter's vessel." - Psalm 2 KJ
"You must drive all the natives of the land before you. If you do not
drive the natives of the country before you then those who remain will
become disgusting to your eyes and a thorn in your side. They will
harass you in the land where you live, and I will deal with you as
I meant to deal with them." - Num. 33:5
For a long time the Lakota/Dakota people practiced their traditional
eco-conscious religion throughout the Wahkon River Watershed. Four of the
seven sub-tribes/bands of the Lakota/Dakota (the Isanti Dakota) were still living within this watershed when
Europeans first arrived in the area. It was not long after they arrived that they
Christian mission of using a westward [driven] refugee
tribe (or band of Ojibwe) to [drive] the Isanti Dakota from their sacred [heathen] homeland.
Now the Isanti Dakota are beginning to return to their
sacred Wahkon River Watershed homeland
in order to (along with a number of other good reasons) once again practice
their traditional religion, including
their eco-conscious spirituality. They are returning to their
sacred ancestral homeland. Their
return to their home will help me to
promote Native environmental awareness throughout this watershed.
Many indigenous/native people believe that the infamous Biblical command of
the God of Abraham, father to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic religious
complex, to "subdue the earth" (instead of "honor and live in
harmony with Mother Earth") is the foundation of colonialism
and domination of nature for centuries. And that
discovery," the Papal legal doctrine that
commands the subjugation of indigenous peoples
and their sacred homelands, enforced in the U.S. and other
countries, is built on the Abrahamic religious command.
Many indigenous people also believe that this same command "subdue the earth" under girds
an economics of "resource" extraction extending around the world, treating Mother Earth,
a living being,
as a bunch of "things" to be exploited.
Indigenous people believe that water is alive. They say: it hears
our words, and responds to our speaking, to our thoughts, and to
our words. And that the Creator made nothing dead. We cannot separate
ourselves from living things. We are all part of the same world.
The Lakota/Dakota would not say the Watpa Wahkon (Spirit River)
belongs to them. They believe that they belong to the Watpa
Wahkon and that it is alive, it hears their words, responds
to their speaking, to their thoughts, and to their words. When they look at the Watpa Wahkon
they see God. Everything they see is God, or a part of God. And they believe that there
is a very special presents of God/Wahkon at sacred sites.
The plants, animals, birds, trees, rocks, rivers, lakes and everything on this earth are
their relatives and they are a part of God or Wahkon Tonka. Gifts are therefore given to
In academic terms, Native American spirituality may be described
as panentheism (deity/spirit present in, as well as beyond, everything).
Such a worldview assumes the existence of Spirit beyond the visible
world, but also dwelling in all that is. The word "animism" (belief in spirits in
natural phenomena, such as rivers, trees, rocks, animals, fire) is
commonly used to describe Native American religion, but when one
neglects to include the broader presence of Spirit beyond physical
nature, this explanation is incomplete.
The Lakota/Dakota concept of Wahkon or Wahkon Tonka (most frequently translated as Great
Spirit) illustrates panentheism well: Wahkon Tonka is the
Spirit over, under, and throughout all of the physical world,
its guiding principle, present in individual phenomena yet
not confined to it, not strictly singular nor plural, neither
truly personal nor impersonal.
Animism: Reverend Matthew Fox wrote, "We have [only] one moment in human history
where these spirits were excommunicated, and that is… the modern era." Only
in the last few hundred years (about 300 years or so), Fox points out, have people
in the Western world insisted on distancing and divorcing themselves from their relationship
to the world of the spirits. He calls it a "rupture and perversion in human consciousness,"
and he says: "I think this helps to explain the price we have paid in terms of ecological
disaster, war, and greed."
In a book titled Ancient Wisdom for Modern Ignorance, its author,
Swami B. V. Tripurari, wrote: "Our present environmental crisis is in
essence a spiritual crisis. We need only to look back to medieval
Europe and the psychic revolution that vaulted Christianity to
victory over paganism to find the spirit of the environmental crisis."
"Inhibitions to the exploitation of nature vanished as the Church
took the 'spirits' out of the trees, mountains, and seas.
Christianity's ghost-busting theology made it possible for man
to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of
natural objects. It made nature man's monopoly. This materialist
paradigm has dominated the modern world for the last few centuries.
"The current deplorable environmental crisis demands a
spiritual response. A fundamental reorientation of human consciousness."
Now-days the name Wahkon is often spelled Wakan. A paragraph in an article of mine that
is posted on The Wakan Circle reads: Movements to restore Native names
to geographic sacred sites are growing and gaining ground. Their
mission is to influence the dominate culture to show due respect
for sacred Native sites and their original names, which are often
sacred names...and by doing so, ultimately reconcile the
holocaustic behavior and treatment of indigenous peoples
by the European settlers.
When this happens Native environmental awareness will
dominate the world and the environmental crisis will then
come to an end.
One of the reasons for promoting the effort to change the name
of the "Rum River" is because "rum, like whiskey, brought misery and ruin to many of
the Indians." - Warren Upham. This quote is from a book published by the Minnesota Historical
Society. Jim Anderson, the Chairman of the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community, wrote, "rum
was used to steal our land and language." In other word's, the name "Rum" is radically
incompatible with the sacred Lakota/Dakota name for the
river and this is one good reason why the river's name should be changed.
Likewise, mainline denominational Christianity is radically
incompatible with the Lakota/Dakota people's traditional/pagan religion. It's
incompatible, [environmentally] and in other ways. Christian churches located
near the Lakota/Dakota people’s Watpa Wahkon (Spirit River), a sacred site,
are, to the Lakota/Dakota people who believe in and practice their
traditional religion, ABOMINATIONS that desecrate this sacred site of theirs.
And they also believe that these churches desecrate their sacred
traditional/ancestral name for the river.
The Christians of these
mainline denominational churches can not show due respect for the
sacred Lakota/Dakota name for the river because of some of their
religious beliefs. The Lakota/Dakota people were in this area first.
So if the two different groups of people of this area can not get
along together (and they can not) because of radical different
religious beliefs who is going to have to leave the area?
What I am saying in this article, is... if Christians of the
mainline denominational churches located within the sacred
Lakota/Dakota, Wahkon River Watershed Ancestral Homeland want
to continue believing in God and Jesus Christ, and want to
also continue being disciples of Jesus Christ, they will
have to (in order to be righteous and show due respect for
the Lakota/Dakota people) embrace a form of "Christianity"
that is compatible with the Lakota/Dakota people's traditional
religion, a form of "Christianity" that does not desecrate their
sacred site (the Watpa Wahkon) and their sacred name for
the river. Nor can it be incompatible with Native environmental
awareness or spirituality.
This article explains how mainline denominational
Christians can radically transform their religion so that
it is compatible with the Lakota/Dakota traditional religion...and,
in doing so, gain the right to live in this land that is
sacred to them.
Colonizing European nations were obeying the international
laws of Western Christendom, which were based on the "Doctrine of Christian Discovery,"
a series of fifteenth century Papal doctrines, when they invaded the
Americas' indigenous peoples' sacred homelands, committed genocide and
ethnocide against them, desecrated their sacred sites, stole their
lands, enslaved some of them, subjugated all of them, denied them
their fundamental human rights to be fully independent sovereign
nations and have root ownership of their sacred homeland territories,
where they could practice their traditional/pagan religions.
And when the United States of America was established it continued on with
the same ungodly agenda in this part of the Western Hemisphere. And it has not yet repented.
However, the U.S. Episcopal Church, Methodist Church, Unitarian
Universalist Church, United Church of Christ Church and some Quaker Churches have repented. They have
repudiated the Doctrine of Christian Discovery.
With the exception of the Episcopal, Methodist and United Church
of Christ churches the mainline denominational Christian churches
have not yet repented, which would necessarily include a radical
transformation of their spirituality and theology. These mainline denominational
Christians can not righteously live in this land while in the
morally degenerate condition they are still in. And the Episcopal, Methodist
and United Church of Christ churches still have a lot more to apologize for and a lot more
transformation to go through before they will be compatible
with this land's indigenous peoples.
Note: The World Council of Churches has also denounced the Doctrine of Discovery.
Environmental Activism On The Rum (Wahkon) River
Mystical Paradigm Shift And The New Post-Christian Church