Open Letter To City Councils Pondering Rum River Name-Change Effort
by Thomas Ivan Dahlheimer
Dear City Councils of Anoka, Ramsey, Andover, Oak Grove, Saint Francis,
Cambridge, Isanti, Princeton, Milaca and Onamia.
Greetings from the small town of Wahkon, Minnesota. It is where
the headquarters of the Rum River Name Change Organization are
located. I am the Executive Director and co-founder of this
organization. I recently mailed a June 22, 2015 Star Tribune
article about the movement to change the Rum River's name
to all of the city councils of the cities where the
"Rum River" flows. As you know, the article
is entitled, Time to fix Rum River error?.
The purpose of this letter is to provide you with information
that I believe can help all of the city councils of this area
to better understand the complex and controversial Rum River
name-change issue, so that the councils, if they choose to
weigh in, can, hopefully, come to an informed and well thought-out,
good position on it.
Several years ago, the Director of American Indian Studies
at the U of M said that no one knows for sure how the river
received its current English name, Rum, but because the
popular derogatory legend behind the Rum River name,
presented in Warren Upham's book (as a fact), and published
by the Minnesota Historical Society, has been in the public
domain for a long time, she therefore concluded-that this
is one good reason why the river's English name should
The Dakota people's name for the "Rum River" is Wahkon Wakpa.
It translates into English as Spirit River. It "was changed by
the white man to the most common spirituous liquor brought into
the Northwest, rum, which brought misery and ruin to many of the
Indians," Upham said, calling it a "badly named river" and a
"punning translation...a white man's perversion of the ancient
I believe in Upham's account of how the river received its
current English name. The Minnesota State DNR is aware that
there is no certainty as to how the river received its current
English name, but, never-the-less, it decided that it is
reasonable for me to believe that the name is derogatory...and,
therefore, it is now guiding the process. Curt Brown stated is
his Star Tribune article, Time to fix Rum River error?,
that Peter Boulay of the DNR said "there are more derogatory
names, such as Savage Lake..."
Jim Anderson (Mdewakanton Dakota) and Warren Upham expressed
in the Star Tribune article that the river's current English
name is not compatible with the Dakota people's sacred name for
the river. The river is a sacred site with a sacred Dakota
name. Its Dakota name can be spelled Wahkon, or Wakan. It hurts
the Dakota people to see their sacred river desecrated with the
current profane English name, Rum. I believe that this is another
good reason why the river's English name should be changed.
In Benjamin Franklin's autobiography, 1791, he wrote: "If it be
the design of Providence to extirpate these Savages in order to
make room for cultivators of the Earth, it seems not improbable
that rum may be the appointed means." Renaming the Dakota people's
sacred river with the name of a chemical weapon of genocidal
warfare, or, the poison rum, is, in my opinion, a grave injustice.
I believe that this is another good reason why the river's name,
Rum, should be changed.
Rum and other spirituous liquors were used to help "steal the Dakota
people's land and language," as well as ruin their traditional
spirituality-associated with their sacred river. I believe that
this is another good reason why the river's disrespectful English
name, Rum, should be changed.
In Chief Leonard Wabasha's statement, presented on his interpretive sign at Mille
Lacs Kathio State Park, he does not even use the disrespectful
English name for the river, Rum, but refers to the river as "Spirit River."
And LeMoine LaPointe, Director of Healthy Nations at Minneapolis American
Indian Center, said in an article entitled, A scouting party for the future:
canoeing the Wakan Wakpa, "Rum is a pollutant, but the river is not a poison,"
he said. "It is a holy river that contributed to generations of successful
In the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community's letter of support, Jim Anderson,
the Cultural Adviser for this community, wrote: We, as Dakotas,
are very happy that there are people out there that are trying to understand
that by using names like "rum" and "devil" to label sacred sites and places
is degrading to our children, our elders and also to our ancestors. These
places were already named in our language by our people because of their special
meaning. When we have to tell our children why these places have been named
after a poison or the worst words in their language. It is demoralizing to
us to have to explain why a place is named after the same things that helped
to steal our land and language. To have to be reminded of the cultural genocide
that has been perpetrated on all Indian people. So, in changing the name back
to the Dakota language, it will help in the healing process that our people
continue to deal with.
I believe that the Rum River's derogatory name will not be changed without this
river name-change movement becoming highly influential in bringing about revolutionary
A few years ago, the Minnesota Sesquicentennial Commission stated that ethnocide
and genocide were committed against the Dakota people and that most Minnesotans
are not aware, or, unable to accept, that institutionalized laws and
policies-associated with historic, Christian
religious bigotry and white racism-combined. And that (2.) because of this
problematic situation, most
Minnesotans have a radical lack of empathy for, not only, the historical
and current plight of the Dakota people, but also for the plight of all Indian people.
There is a large, and growing in popularity, global-international movement that is
helping people who are caught up in national and international-institutionalized
religious bigotry and racism...or, white racism associated with "international law," a "law"
which has been incorporated into many nation states, (sometimes called
"the law of Christendom") to get set free from it...or, set free from a radical
lack of empathy for the historical and current plight of Indigenous peoples
around the world. This movement
is primarily focused on rectifying the injustices caused by the international legal construct
known as the Doctrine
of Christian Discovery.
The guiding principle of the Doctrine of Christian Discovery (or, Doctrine of Discovery), a
doctrine based on a series of 15th century Papal bulls, is that
"white Christian supremacy" nullifies some of the most important basic human rights of
indigenous peoples. The white colonizers believed that their Christian religion was the
only true religion, therefore they
considered it superior to the indigenous
peoples' religions. This was the basis for denying indigenous peoples three
of their most important basic human rights.
When corresponding with a prominent resident of the City of Princeton,
a person who was concerned with the economic cost associated with changing
the Rum River's name, I wrote: Our movement is to change the Rum River's
name. However, we would appreciate it if the city council would change
the name of Princeton's main street from "Rum River Drive" to some other
name. I believe that the State of Minnesota should appropriate money to
help Princeton and other cities on the river to pay for the cost of the
transformation that is needed at this time. Think of the civil war and,
afterwards, how much it cost people to set their slaves free.
I believe that before a city council officially weighs in on the
name-change issue, it is important for it to weigh in the balance...how much
suffering the city would have to go through-including the economic burden
of changing the river's name, with how much good it could do if it were to
come out in support of the name-change effort. City councils
should do this with not only a city-wide perspective, but also with a State
of Minnesota, USA national and global-international perspective.
In 2012, Arizona's largest state-wide daily newspaper, The Arizona Republic,
published an article by Dennis Wagner, titled
Tribes embrace native names
to preserve culture; subtitled: Return to original place names preserves
cultures, fixes wrongs. As you know, Curt Brown's article is titled,
Time to fix Rum River error?. This same Wagner article, with a different
title, was published in USA Today.
The article is about a national movement to preserve Native culture, by
replacing derogatory place names, such as Squaw, Redskins, Savages, etc.,
with their original Native names. The movement is also about restoring
Native names to sacred sites.
Dennis Wagner interviewed me for the article. The article includes a segment
titled, Translation of insults, in it there are three paragraphs about my
effort to change several Minnesota place names. "Snake River" and "Rum
River" where mentioned. The movement to change the Rum River's name back
to its sacred Dakota name is part of a larger national movement to restore
Native names to sacred sites.
When a city council is focusing on the Rum River name-change issue, and
evaluating how it should officially weigh in, it should be aware of
how the name-change movement is interrelated with other Indigenous
peoples' rights and advocacy movements.
The Chair of the Commission on Ecumenism and Interreligious Affairs for the
Archdiocese of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Father Erich Rutten, recently met
with me in Anoka, where, as you known, the "Rum (Wahkon) River" flows into
the Mississippi River. This meeting came about because of an article I
wrote and the correspondence I gained (because of its contents) with
some prominent Minnesota citizens and an internationally renowned
Indigenous activist, Steven Newcomb, who gave his support behind the contents
of my article. A section of the article addresses the controversial Doctrine of
Christian Discovery issue. The article is entitled, Promoting Native Environmental Awareness Throughout
The "Rum" (Wahkon) River Watershed.
When I met with Father Rutten, the Saint Paul area Council of Churches interfaith
organization, SPIN, an organization that the Minnesota Council of
Churches is involved
with, was presenting a documentary on the
Doctrine of Christian Discovery, a documentary
co-produced by a renowned Minnesota Indigenous activist, Sheldon Wolfchild, and the
internationally renowned Indigenous activist, Steven Newcomb. The Doctrine of Christian
Discovery is the underlying and root cause of why there are so many derogatory geographic
place names, including the Rum River's name, that are offensive and hurtful to Indigenous peoples throughout the Americas, and
Indian Country Today Media Network (ICTMN), the world largest Indian news source,
occasionally posts a selective comment or two, rarely three, to its articles.
It almost always posts my comments. A lot of my comments are posted on Steven
Newcomb's articles. Newcomb is a world renowned expert on the Doctrine of Christian
Discovery. He often writes ICTMN articles about the doctrine. The UN, Vatican and
World Council of Churches are involved with the controversial Doctrine of
Christian Discovery issue.
The UN Permanent Forum On Indigenous Issues, World Council of Churches, U.S. national
Episcopal Church, U.S. national United Methodist Church, and thirteen Catholic groups, etc.,
have repudiated the Doctrine of Christian Discovery. And more and more churches and organizations
are being added to the list as the movement
progresses and moves forward.
Mr. Newcomb had some input in the drafting of a resolution that Rep. Dean Urdahl asked
me to write during a meeting with Dakota leaders near the Minnesota State Capital.
Urdahl edited and introduced my resolution to the legislature. It contains statements
about changing derogatory names and the Doctrine of Christian Discovery.
Many people believe that Newcomb is in the forefront of the global movement to rectify
the injustices caused by the Doctrine of Christian Discovery, a white Christian supremacy
doctrine. The last two sentences of a 284 word comment of mine-posted on a recent
ICTMN article by Newcomb, read: American is beginning to repent of its supremacy sins. America's
Christian paradigm of domination over Indian peoples is coming to an end.
ICTMN recently published an article by Kevin Leecy, the Chair of the Minnesota Indian
Affairs Council. The first sentence in my 426 word comment on Leecy's article reads:
This Kevin Leecy's article is a sign among a number of other signs that indicate
that Minnesota is coming into the forefront of the American and global movement
that is shining a light on the dark chapters of colonialism, with the aim "to
move beyond guilt and anger to real healing."
Several years ago, the United Nations Secretariat of the Permanent Forum On
Indigenous Issues, John Gordon Scott, wrote and thanked me for informing the
United Nations about my movement to change the Rum River's derogatory name. He
alluded to an international movement to replace derogatory geographic place
names that are offensive and hurtful to Indigenous Peoples around the world.
The derogatory names, including the Rum River's name, are products of colonialism,
imperialism and racism-associated with the infamous, white Christian supremacy
delusion, or, the Doctrine of Christian Discovery-and its instructions to
colonizers to dehumanize and dominate/subjugate Indigenous peoples.
I hope the above information will influence you, important city councils, to
weigh in. I also hope that if you do weigh in, the above information will help the councils
to formulate a well reasoned and good position on this river name-change
The "Rum River" (Wakan Wakpa) flows through Princeton, Minnesota. The
Princeton-Union-Eagle is the city's official newspaper. On August 12, 2015, this newspaper
published my "guest columnist" article entitled
Changing name of Rum River will aid healing process.