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According to historical documents found in, "Minnesota Geographic Names", a book written by Warren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
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
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
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
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
If you would like to know more about our Society and it's geographic name-change movement
check out these two web sites: www.towahkon.org and