The following article was published in NewPeople, a Thomas Merton Center monthly publication.


A Thomas Merton Influenced Movement

by Thomas Ivan Dahlheimer

This article is about both this Society's contemporary Catholic expression of the youth of the 1960s counter-cultural revolution (or world-unifying globalization revolution) as well as its world-wide geographic name-change social-political justice ministry.

In Minnesota, "the land of ten thousand lakes", there is a large and beautiful lake named Mille Lacs. Its outlet river is named Rum. The "Sioux" (Dakota) name for the Rum River is Wakan, translated (Great) Spirit.

According to historical documents found in, "Minnesota Geographic Names", a book written by Warren Upham, and published by the Minnesota Historical Society... in the late 1700s, white men gave the Rum River its current name by way of a "punning translation" that "perverted the ancient Sioux name Wakan".

I became aware of this profanation of the sacred Dakota name for the "Rum" River some twenty five years ago. And then a few years ago I established a movement to change the river's profane name.

When I discovered this profanation of the sacred Dakota name Wakan, I was participating in a world-view behind the word wakan movement. This movement originated as a part of the 1960s youth counter-cultural revolution. A revolution with a mission to establish a single united global culture, a culture made up of the best of the past of all different people's cultures and traditions. A culture wherein, we hoped, all of humanity would eventually be united. This movement was founded on lyrics in the Beatles' song Imagine: "hope you join us and the world will be as one".

And this movement is still active. Near Summertown, Tennessee, there is a 250-member and very successful youth of the 1960s counter-cultural commune with a world-view behind the word wakan. Its founder and leader (Stephen Gaskin) is internationally known and his commune has gained national recognition as a creditable environmental organization.

The "Sioux" are used to portray all Native American tribes in Hollywood, anyone wanting to see a "real Indian" wants to see a war bonnet and a tipi. Therefore, I believe that the world psychic views all Native Americans as "Sioux"; and that when people watch the traditional Hollywood movies about Native Americans they often hear the "Sioux" using the word wakan (sacred), or the combined words Wakan-Tonka (Spirit-Great). Hence, a lot of people believe that the word wakan and the name Wakan-Tonka are used by all Native Americans. Stephen Gaskin once wrote: "The word wakan has a strong and universal concept and people all around the world know something about it."

And the word wakan is used by a lot of Native American tribes, bands, and villages throughout America. And because we believe that Native American culture has the most valuable features of all cultures, features such as kinship tribalism, an ecological spirituality, a charismatic spirituality...etc., and also because we have therefore made it the predominant culture of our globalization movement, we therefore describe our movement as a world-view behind the word wakan movement.

And it is by way of this movement that we are promoting respect for traditional Native American culture and spirituality. And we are doing so by showing respect for the sacred multi-tribal Native American word wakan.

The Tekakwitha Conference is an international Catholic Native American conference that represents many tribes throughout North America. And at the 1983 annual Tekakwitha Conference, a conference that I attended, a missionary Priest addressed the conference and said: "There is a whole world-view behind the word wakan".

And during the 1983 conference I was interviewed by Matthew Fox. At the time Fox was the international leader of the Catholic Church's globalization movement. And at the beginning of the interview, Fox told me that Thomas Merton had asked him to reach out to the youth of the 1960's counter cultural revolution with the intent to help them find the truth and live holy lives. And then Fox asked me, a counter cultural revolutionary, what I thought about this connection with Thomas Merton. I responded by telling him about my - strongly influenced by Merton - world-view behind the word wakan counter-cultural movement. And near the end of the interview Fox ask me to keep in touch with him, so as to keep him informed about the progress of my movement. And just recently Fox, after reading a longer version of this article, emailed me to give his support for our Society's effort to change the Rum River's name.

And during the 1984 Mr. & Mrs. I. C. Rainbow family reunion my uncle Don Rainbow addressed the seventeen families gathered at that Rainbow family reunion and said: " A Rainbow is a sign of God's salvation plan and I believe that we may be used to glorify God more than any other family in the world." He made this very grandiose statement after I spoke to him about my vision of our family coming together in kinship tribalism in order to promote the tribal way and to also promote my expression of the counter-culture's world-view behind the word wakan movement.

Years later I met and became friends with Chris McCloud, an internationally renowned song writer who in the 1960s socialized with Paul McCarthy and other internationally known counter cultural leaders. When McCloud was socializing with McCarthy he was of the, strongly influenced by Thomas Merton, Catholic expression of the counter culture's world unifying globalization movement, and he is still of the Catholic expression to this present day.

In the 1960s, I met and became friends with Richard Carter. Carter was a San Francisco Bay area leader of the counter-cultural revolution and he occasionally met with Stephen Gaskin. When Gaskin and his commune moved to Summertown Tennessee, Carter his wife (Louis) and myself moved to Wahkon, Minnesota. Currently, Carter is an internationally renowned environmentalist. And our Society's headquarters are located in Wahkon.

These mentioned above experiences inspired me to increase my dedication to my mission of promoting my expression of the counter-culture's world-view movement behind the word wakan, and to do so, by showing respect for the multi-tribal Native American word wakan. And in order to show due respect for the sacred Native American word wakan, I (as previously mentioned) established a movement to change the derogatory name of the Rum River.

Our Society's efforts to change the river's name has received support from a very long list of organizations and individuals. Some of them include: two Mdewakanton Sioux bands, a Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community, Cankdeska Cikana Community College, Tekakwitha Conference (international Catholic Native American organization), the UN Secretariat of the Permanent Forum On Indigenous Issues, the National Environmental Coalition of Native Americans, Joe Day (Executive Director of the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council), Russell Means (internationally renowned American Indian activist), Pat Albers (Chair of the University of Minnesota's American Indian Studies Department), Archbishop Harry Flynn (of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul), American Indian Cultural Research Center at South Dakota's Blue Cloud Abbey, the University Creation Spirituality, Pax Christi USA, and many other historic preservationists, human rights organizations and thirty pastors of Christian churches located within the "Rum" River area. In my effort to change the river's name I have found that there is almost unanimous support for the name change by Christian ministers.

If you would like to know more about our Society and it's geographic name-change movement check out these two web sites: and

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