Rum River Name Change Movement

By Thomas Ivan Dahlheimer

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 as (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According to historical documents found in, "Minnesota Geographic Names", a book written by Warren Upham, and published by the Minnesota Historical Society...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".

When the white men preformed the "punning translation" they did so by mistranslating the name Wakan, a name that means (Great) Spirit, to mean an alcohol spirit, the alcohol spirit rum.

Hence the word spirit/Spirit, a word that has different definitions was use in a punning way to mistranslate the sacred Dakota name for the river. The white men then took their faulty-translation word (rum) and unfortunately used it to name the river Rum. And by doing so, they "perverted the ancient Sioux name Wakan".

In a 1868 St. Paul Daily Pioneer article, the Rum River name is listed, along with some other geographic site names, as "Profane". When referring to the Rum River name, an excerpt from a 1868 St. Paul Daily Pioneer article reads: "The profane name was already in use by some in 1861, as was the animosity toward the native people of Minnesota."

I became aware of this profanation of the Dakota name for the "Rum River" some twenty five years ago. And then several years ago I established a movement to change the profane name. It quickly gained support from national organizations. Even an international Catholic Native American organization, the Tekakwitha Conference, gave its support for my efforts to change this river's profane name. Also, the Unite Nations' Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has given its support for the effort to change this river's profane name.

When I discovered this profanation of the sacred Dakota name Wakan, I was participating in a youth of the 1960s counter-cultural movement which had a visionary mission with a worldview around the word wakan. Wakan is sometimes translated as sacred or holy. Because my involvement in this worldview counter-cultural movement was a very influential factor as to why I initiated the Rum River name-change proposal, I therefore believe that it is fitting at this time to present a brief history of my involvement in this worldview movement around the word wakan.

The worldview around the word wakan visionary movement originated as a part of the 1960s youth counter-cultural, world-unifying, globalization 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 the earth's different peoples' traditions and cultures. A culture wherein, we hoped, all of humanity would eventually be united. This movement was founded on lyrics within the Beatles' song Imagine: "hope you join us and the world will be as one".

This movement is still active. Near Summertown, Tennessee there is a 250-member and very successful youth of the 1960s counter-cultural community with a worldview around the word wakan. Its founder and leader, Stephen Gaskin, is internationally renowned and his community has gained national recognition as a successful environmental organization. Gaskin once wrote: "The word wakan has a strong and universal concept and people all around the world know something about it."

The Dakota 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 Dakota; and that when people watch the traditional Hollywood movies about Native Americans they often hear the Dakota using the word wakan (sacred), or the combined words Wakan-Tonka (Spirit-Great). Hence, a lot of people throughout the world believe that the word wakan and the name Wakan-Tonka are used by all Native Americans. Note: The Dakota people originally used the word wakan for the name of their Great Spirit, they later added the word Tonka.

The word wakan is used by a lot of Native American tribes, bands, and villages throughout America. Thirteen Hopi villages, thirteen Dakota/Lakota/Nakota tribes, and a few other "siouan" speaking tribes use the word wakan for sacred. And because those of us who are of the hippie countercultural movement to unite humanity within a single united global-cultural 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 movement, we describe our movement as a worldview movement around the word wakan. And it is by way of this movement that we are promoting respect for traditional Native American culture and spirituality. We are doing so by showing respect for the sacred multi-tribal Native American word wakan.

In 1983, I attended the Tekakwitha Conference held at St. John's College in Minnesota. The Tekakwitha Conference is a Catholic Native American conference representing hundreds of tribes. During this conference, a missionary Priest, Rev. Stanislaus Maudin, addressed the conference and said: "There is a whole worldview behind the word wakan". A couple of years ago Rev. Stanislaus Maudlin gave his support for the effort to change the profane Rum River name.

During this same conference I was interviewed by Rev. Matthew Fox. At the time, Fox was an international leader of the Catholic Church's movement to unite humanity within a single united global cultural. During the beginning of the interview Fox told me that the late internationally renowned Catholic monk and author Rev. Thomas Merton, a person who had a lot of influence on the youth of the 1960s, had asked him to reach out to the youth of the 1960s counter-cultural revolutionaries 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 Merton. I then responded by telling him about my, strongly influenced by Merton, counter-cultural and Catholic worldview movement around the word wakan. Near the end of the interview, Fox asked me to keep in touch with him, so as to keep him informed about the progress of my counter-cultural and Catholic, worldview movement around the word wakan. A couple of years ago Rev. Mathew Fox gave his support for the effort to change the profane Rum River name.

During a Mr. & Mrs. I. C. Rainbow family reunion. A reunion that took place not long after my meeting with Rev. Matthew Fox - my uncle Don Rainbow, a vice president of a Christian College, 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 both my meeting with Rev. Matthew Fox and 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 counterculture's, retribalization of the world, worldview movement around the word wakan.

And then 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 worldwide renowned counter-cultural leaders. When McCloud was socializing with McCarthy he, like myself, was of the strongly influenced by Rev. Thomas Merton, Catholic expression of the counter-culture's movement to unite humanity within a single global-cultural, and he is still of the Catholic expression to this present day.

And in the 1960s, I met and became friends with Richard Carter. At the time, Carter was a San Francisco Bay area leader of the counter-cultural revolution and he was occasionally meeting with Stephen Gaskin. When Gaskin and his commune moved to Summertown Tennessee, Carter his wife (Lois) and myself moved to Wahkon, Minnesota. The Dakota name Wakan was spelled Wahkon when given as the name for this small Minnesota town. The move was temporary for the Carters but permanent for myself. Now-a-days, Richard Carter is a bi-nationally known environmentalist and one of the governor of Arizona's top environmental advisors.

My 1983 Tekakwitha Conference and Rainbow family reunion experiences, along with my friendship experiences with both Richard Carter and Chris McCloud, inspired me to increase my dedication to my mission of promoting my expression of the counter-culture's, worldview around the word wakan, movement; and to do so, by showing respect for the sacred 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 profane Rum River name. A name that I believe desecrates not only the sacred Dakota name Wakan but also desecrates the Dakota�s sacred river that they named Wakan and which later white men disrespectfully named Rum.

I laid the foundation for establishing my Rum River name-change movement by contacting Minnesota's DNR official in charge of registering and guiding citizens trying to change derogatory geographic site names.

After he officially registered my effort to change the Rum River's name and then started guiding me, I started building a support base for my geographic site name-change movement.

I established a nonprofit corporation. And I also created a web site to help me build a support base. My web site address is: And the headquarters of my geographic site name-change organization is located in Wahkon, Minnesota.

Our efforts to change the river's name has received support from the following organizations and individuals. In addition, two Mdewakanton Dakota bands and a Dakota college are also on the list of supporters.

* Upper Sioux, a Mdewakanton Dakota Community. This community is one of five Minnesota Mdewakanton Dakota Communities.

* Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community, a non-federally recognized 250-member Mdewakanton Dakota Community

* Leonard Wabasha, hereditary chief of the Mdewakanton Dakota people and, both, a prominent member of the Lower Sioux Mdewakanton Community as well as an employee of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux (Dakota) Community Cultural Resource Department.

* Joe Day, the Executive Director of the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council as well as President of the U.S. Governors' Interstate Indian Council. * Minnesota Historical Society's Indian Advisory Committee

* Rep. Mike Jaros , a (DFL) Minnesota State Legislator

* Cambridge, Minnesota (population 5,520), a city located on the Rum River corridor In an article published in Minnesota's best-selling state-wide daily newspaper, the Star Tribune, there are the words: Last month, the Cambridge City Council took its own stand in Dahlheimer's crusade, voting to rename "West Rum River Drive to Spirit River Drive. Along with the Cambridge campus of Anoka-Ramsey Community College and the Isanti County Active Living by Design, the city also has named a part of a new community trail system Spirit River Nature Area." "We understand we can't rename the river on our own, but we wanted to at least recognize the Native American history of this area," said Stoney Hiljus, Cambridge's city administrator.

* Cankdeska Cikana Community College, a Dakota college established to bring higher education opportunities to the people of the Spirit Lake Tribe.

* C. D. Floro, the editor of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe's Lake Traverse Reservation newspaper, a newspaper named Sota. Lake Traverse Reservation is located in South Dakota and is home to 10,840 Sisseton-Wahpeton "Sioux" (Dakota) people. The Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe is composed of descendants of the Isanti people. Isan means 'Knife' and Isanti refers to the Knife Lake and Mille Lacs Lake people of the Dakota nation. Mille Lacs Lake, the lake that the Wakan/"Rum" River flows out of, is considered sacred because, according to one creation story, the Dakota people emerged from it as human beings into this world.

* Alfred Bone Shirt (Sicangu), a nationally renowned Native American activist. Mr. Shirt is the contact person for the Dakota-Lakota-Nakota Human Rights Advocacy Coalition.

* Tekakwitha Conference, an international Catholic Native American organization. 172 tribes were represented at this organization's 2003 annual conference. And Tekakwitha Conference prayer circles, called Kateri Prayer Circles, have been formed on nearly all U.S. Reservations.

* Rev. Stan Maudlin, abbot of Blue Cloud Abbey and founder and Executive Director of BCA's American Indian Research Center. Rev. Maudlin has been a prominent leader of the Tekakwitha Conference since its origins and he is in constant correspondence with the Vatican Commission on Traditional Religions. During the 1983 Tekakwitha Conference, Rev Maudlin addressed a large group of conference participants and said "there is a whole world view behind the word wakan". And in 2003, Rev. Maudlin won the South Dakota Hall of Fame reward.

* Division of Indian Work (DIW) , an organization that is in partnership with the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches (GMCC). The Board of Directors and staff of GMCC and DIW are committed to continuing their evolution into an anti-racist, multi-cultural organization that works for racial justice in the Minneapolis area.

* Native Earthworks Preservation Group, a group born out of the need to preserve the heritage and culture of the indigenous people of North America.

* Alliance for Native American Indian Rights, an intertribal organization dedicated to preserving and protecting Native American burial grounds and other culturally significant places.

* STAR (Students and Teachers Against Racism) This organization seeks to bring the image of Native Americans into the present, to support the well being of Native children in schools through the accurate depiction of history and by raising awareness of the need for sensitivity to Native culture as well as bringing recognition to the ongoing contributions of Native Peoples today, and to celebrate the varied and rich cultural traditions of all Native people in the United States.

* Christine Rose, the editor and occasional writer for STAR's editorial material. "Understanding The Mascot Issue" which contains important writings, essays, studies, surveys, law issues, articles and personal writings by Native people regarding the mascot and has been used extensively by school boards and State Departments of Education as well as by many individual schools in determining the removal of Native-based mascots.

* Dr. Peggy McIntosh , a world-renowned lecturer, she consults with higher education institutions throughout the United States and the world on creating multi-cultural and gender-fair curricula. Author of many influential articles on curriculum change, women's studies and systems of unearned privilege, she has taught at Harvard University, Trinity College (Washington, DC) and the University of Durham (England), among other institutions.

* Professor Christine Sleeter, a nationally and internationally renowned multicultural educator and social activist who is a winner the National Association for Multicultural Education Research Award.

* Paul Gorski, a nationally and internationally renowned multicultural educator.

* Lyn Miller-Lachman, the Editor-in-Chief of MultiCultural Review, "a quarterly trade journal and book review for educators and librarians.

* Barbara Gerner De Garcia, the Secretary of the Executive Committee of the board for the National Association for Multicultural Education.

* Ward Churchill (Creek), a nationally and internationally renowned American Indian activist. Churchill is one of the United State's foremost experts on indigenous peoples and their struggles in the Americas. He has been heavily involved in the American Indian Movement and the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee. And he is the author of many books. Churchill has actively taken part in numerous movements resisting government repression, fighting for indigenous rights, and he served as a delegate to the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations.

* Russell Means (Lakota), an internationally renown American Indian activist.

* Clyde Bellecourt (Dakota), an internationally renown American Indian activist.

* Rev. Sequoyah Ade, an internationally regarded essayist and Indigenist political commentator.

* Dr. Michael Yellow Bird, Ph. D., a nationally and internationally renown American Indian educator and activist, who has served as a rapporteur for the health and human rights working group during the Indigenous Peoples International Day at the United Nations, and has been a featured speaker, both nationally and internationally, on topics important to the well being of Indigenous communities. And he is also the Founder and Director of the Center for Indigenous Peoples' Critical and Intuitive Thinking and Associate Professor of Indigenous Nations Studies University of Kansas.

* Steve Russell (Cherokee), a Texas state judge, twice past President, Texas Indian Bar Association, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, Indiana University. Steve Russell's comment: "This campaign is a valuable history lesson!"

*Mike L. Graham, a member of the Oklahoma Cherokee Nation and founder of United Native America , a national organization with a membership of 30,000.

* Teresa Kurtzhall, volunteer staff member for United Native America.

* American Indian Genocide Museum, the purpose of this museum is to bring historical truth to light through the means of education using actual documentation of events that have transpired in the near extermination, and in some cases, the total extermination of native tribes and cultures. Racism, discrimination and injustice will be addressed with the purpose of promoting public awareness that these elements of genocide which existed in the past, continue to exist today. Note: Russell Means is on this organization's Advisory Board.

* Dr. Tom Pinkson, a psychologist, author, and founder of Wakan, a spiritual community dedicated to the sacredness of life. Dr. Pinkson has worked with indigenous elders all over the world.

* Charles E. Trimble (Oglala Lakota), the Interim Director of Institute of American Indian Studies at the University of South Dakota. He was a principal founder of the American Indian Press, and served as Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians. And he is President of Red River Institute and a columnist for Indian Country Today. And he represented U.S. tribes at the founding of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples.

*Hunter Gray, a nationally renown Native American social justice organizer. He was the University of North Dakota's American Indian Studies Department Chair. Currently, he is the Chairman of Native American Commission SPUSA, a national Native advocate organization. And he is also the Regional Organizer of the Anti-Racist DSA.

* Jim Anderson, Cultural Chair and Historian for the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community. Jim Anderson is helping us to spearheading the movement to change the Rum River's derogatory name.

* Chuck Benson, of Lakota/Dakota descent and a relative of Petit Corbeau, the original "Little Crow" (great-grandfather of the famous Little Crow aka Taoyate Duta of 1862 "uprising" fame).

* Ernest Moristo (Tohono O'Odham), when addressing the participants of a United Nation's Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues meeting, he called for an assessment of the status of sacred sites of indigenous nations. In an e-mail to our director, he wrote: "We are a grassroots org. of Tohono O'odham Indians in Az. trying to protect our sacred sites. Interested in networking.

* Kristin and Curtis Ryan, the owners of a Web site that helps protect and preserve sacred Native American sites. It's located at: This Web site has a gallery that include pictures of the Wakan/"Rum" River.

* Jeanne Svhiyeyi Aga Chadwick, the publisher/editor/webmaster of an American Indian/Indigenous online news ezine, called My Two Beads Worth. It has been visited by over 2 million people from all over the world. And an article about our campaign is posted on this website.

*Kathleen Franklin, an on-line teacher of the Lakota language

* National Environmental Coalition of Native Americans
* First Nations Environmental Network

* Kathryn Wild, PhD, CEO (Karuk Tribe of Northern California) - Kathryn Wild is developing an Environmental Education Retreat for California school teachers, offering university credit to learn gold rush history from an indigenous perspective.

Kevin Annett, an internationally renowned Canadian "Indian" rights activist. Mr. Annett is the author of two books and numerous articles on the genocide of aboriginal peoples in Canada. He is a regular columnist for the Republic of East Vancouver and The Radical, and hosts a bi-weekly public affairs program on Vancouver Co-op Radio. His writings have appeared in such international publications as The New Internationalist, Nexus, Against The Current and Canadian Dimension. Click hidden from history to view Kevin Annett's Web site.

* Tom Wisner, a singer and song writer who is known nationally for his song "Chesapeake Born". Mr. Wisner is writing a song in support of renaming the Rum River. "Chesapeake Born" became the title song for the 1987 National Geographic Special on the Bay region. Wisner�s classroom techniques were filmed by Washington-area NBC-TV and other stations, and he received national, state, and local awards for excellence in teaching. He was given citations by two governors and was named a major figure in land-conservation work by President Reagan's Commission on the Out-of-Doors.

*Carole Van Valkenburg, Reporter/Anchor WCCO-TV. WCCO-TV or WCCO 4 is a television station that serves the Minneapolis-St. Paul area of Minnesota. It broadcasts on channels 4 (analog) and 32 (digital). Additional TV transmitters in the north serve Alexandria (KCCO 7, 24 DT.

* Wisdom University , this University's Creation Spirituality movement seeks to integrate the wisdom of western spirituality and global indigenous cultures with the emerging scientific understanding of the universe.

* Matthew Fox, an internationally renowned Christian theologian, environmentalist and indigenous peoples rights activist. Fox is also the founder and president of Wisdom University.

* AymaraNet, a South American organization with the world's only internet site with information on the Aymaras Natives in Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Ecuador.

* KOLA, an international human rights organization that helps indigenous communities throughout the world to rectify injustices inflicted upon them by non-indigenous people living in their homelands.

* United Nations' Secretariat of the Permanent Forum On Indigenous Issues

* Pax Christi USA

* Pax Christi Minnesota

* Pat Albers, Chair of the University of Minnesota's American Indian Studies Department.

* Colin G. Calloway, Chair of Darmouth College Native American Studies Research Center.

* Jacki Rand (Choctaw), a Professor of History and American Indian and Native Studies at the University of Iowa.

*LaVonne Brown Ruoff, a Professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Ruoff is a specialist in Native American literature.

* Michelene Pesantubee, an assistant professor of Religious Studies and American Indian and Native Studies at the University of Iowa.
* Angela Cavender Wilson, Ph.D., an Arizona State University Assistant Professor of American Indian History.

* Devon Abbott Mihesuah (Choctaw), an University of Nebraska professor of Applied Indigenous Studies, serves as Editor of the award winning journal, the American Indian Quarterly and edits University of Nebraska Press's book series, "Contemporary Indigenous Issues.

* Don Wedll, an American Indian rights activist who is well known throughout the state of Minnesota.

* Paul Pierce, President of the Anoka County Historical Society and a member of Anoka, Minnesota's City Council.

* Anne Mari Fitzell, a producer of an American Indian news web page.

* American Indian Cultural Research Center, located at South Dakota's Blue Cloud Abbey

* Father James Notebaart, director of the Minneapolis and Saint Paul archdiocesan Indian Ministries Office.
* Bishop John F. Kinney of the Diocese of Saint Cloud

* Archbishop Harry Flynn of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and Saint Paul

* Our geographic name-change proposal has also received support from thirty pastors of Christian churches located within the "Rum River" corridor. In our effort to change the river's name we have found that there is almost unanimous support for our efforts to change the profane Rum River name by Christian ministers.

* And Christina Morris, Field Representative for the MIDWEST OFFICE NATIONAL TRUST For HISTORIC PRESERVATION sent our director a letter wherein she wrote: "We recognize the historic and cultural significance of the Wakan River to the peoples of Minnesota, and we commend you in your research of its history, and your efforts to revitalize the Mdewakanton Dakota Community by raising awareness of their heritage."

I believe that by drawing attention to the Rum River name change initiative "white guilt" will increase, because of a heightened awareness of the catastrophic consequences caused by white settlers introducing and selling alcohol to Native Americans; and that this increase of "white guilt" will, in a lot of ways, cause the dominant culture to offer all Native Americans their long over due restitution justice. Especially when it comes to making amends to help Native Americans to free themselves from the plague of alcoholism.

And I believe that due to the wide-spread acceptance of our nation's multicultural movement it will only be a short period of time before the derogatory Rum River name is changed.

A lot of people are active participants in our nation's popular multicultural movement, and through multicultural education and activism people learn to appreciate others more and understand others more; and that by doing so, they become better people. And because through multiculturalism people acquired an increased respect for people of other cultures, they therefore initiate and support movements to change derogatory names. I believe that it is primarily due to our nation's popular multicultural movement that many derogatory names have already been changed, and that because of the wide spread acceptance of multiculturalism our nation has already become a better place to live.

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