Rum River Name Change Initiative

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According to historical documents found in, “Minnesota Geographic Names”, a book written by Warren Upham, and published by the Minnesota Historical Society… in the late 1700s, white men gave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”.

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 name for the Rum River is Mdo-te-Mi-ni-Wakan, translated mouth (of river) + water + sacred.

According to historical documents found in, “Minnesota Geographic Names”, a book written by Warren Upham, and published by the Minnesota Historical Society… in the late 1700s, white men gave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 mis-translating the name Wakan in the Sioux’s sacred compound name Mdo-te-Mi-ni-Wakan, a name that means sacred (or spirit) to mean an alcohol spirit, the alcohol spirit rum.

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

And because the sacred name Wakan is derived from the sacred Sioux name for their Great Spirit (Wakan-Tonka), the Rum River’s current name also desecrates the Sioux name for their Great Spirit. In a 1868 St. Paul Daily Pioneer article, the Rum River name is listed, along with some other geographic names, as “Profane”. When referring to the Rum River’s 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 Sioux name for the Rum River some twenty five years ago. And then a few years ago I established a movement to change the profane name. It quickly gained support from national organizations, and even the an international Catholic Native American organization (the Tekakwitha Conference) has given its support for my efforts to change the river’s name. Also, the Unite Nations’ Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues supports the efforts to change the river’s name.

When I discovered this profanation of the Sioux name Wakan, I was participating in an – influenced by Merton – counter-cultural movement with a world-view behind the word wakan. And because my involvement in this world-view 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 world-view movement behind the word wakan.

The world-view movement behind the word wakan originated as a part of the 1960s youth counter-cultural 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 different people’s cultures and traditions. 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”.

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 throughout the world 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. Thirteen Hopi villages, thirteen Sioux tribes, and a few other siouan speaking tribes use the word wakan for sacred. And because those of us of the counter culture’s single united global-culturalism movement 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 therefore describe our movement as a world-view movement behind the word wakan.

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.

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 over 300 tribes. At the conference, a missionary Priest (Stanislaus Maudin) addressed the conference and said: “There is a whole world-view behind the word wakan”.

And during that same conference I was interviewed by Father Matthew Fox. At the time Fox was the international leader of the Catholic Church’s single united global-culturalism 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 1960s 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 Merton. I then responded by telling him about my strongly influenced by Thomas Merton counter-cultural and Catholic world-view movement behind the word wakan. 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 counter-cultural and Catholic world-view movement behind the word wakan.

And during a Mr. & Mrs. I. C. Rainbow family reunion. A reunion that took place not long after my meeting with Father Matthew Fox 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 both my meeting with 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 counter-culture’s world-view behind the word wakan movement.

And then years later I met and became friends with Chris McCloud, an internationally renown song writer who in the 1960s socialized with Paul McCarthy and other world-wide known counter cultural leaders. When McCloud was socializing with McCarthy he, like myself, was of the strongly influenced by Thomas Merton Catholic expression of the counter culture’s single united global-culturalism movement, 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 occasionally met with Stephen Gaskin. When Gaskin and his commune moved to Summertown Tennessee, Carter his wife (Louis) and myself moved to Wahkon, Minnesota. The move was temporary for the Carters but permanent for myself. Now-a-days, Richard Carter is an internationally renown environmentalist and one of the Governor of Arizona’s top environmental advisers.

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 world-view behind the word wakan movement, 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, a name that I believe desecrates the sacred Sioux name Wakan.

I laid the foundation for establishing my Rum River name-change movement by contacting Minnesota’s DNR official in charge of both opening up name-change processes, as well as guiding citizens trying to change derogatory geographic names.

After he officially opened up the Rum River geographic name-change process and started guiding me, I started building a support base for my geographic 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: www.towahkon.org. And the headquarters of my geographic name-change organization are located in Wahkon, Minnesota.

The only activist opposition to my name-change proposal came from Wahkon, Minnesota’s former City Council.

My efforts to change the river’s name has received support from the following organizations and individuals. In addition, a Mdewakanton Sioux band and Sioux college are also on the list of supporters.

* Upper Sioux, a band of Mdewakanton Sioux. This band is one of four Minnesota Mdewakanton

Sioux bands. The ancestors of these bands named the badly named Rum River Mdoteminiwakan.

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

(or Sioux) tribe.

* Cankdeska Cikana Community College, a Sioux college established to bring higher education

opportunities to the people of the Spirit Lake Tribe.

* Tekakwitha Conference, an international Catholic Native American Catholic organization. 172 tribes

were represented at the 2003 annual Tekakwitha Conference. This conference’s prayer circles, called

Kateri Prayer Circles, have been formed on nearly all U.S. reservations and in many Indian urban

centers.

* United Nations’ Secretariat of the Permanent Forum On Indigenous Issues.

* National Environmental Coalition of Native Americans.

* Joe Day, the Executive Director of the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council.

* Russell Means, an internationally renown American Indian activist.

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

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

* Paul Gorski, an internationally renown multiculturalist who was voted onto the 5-member Executive

Committee of the National Association for Multicultural Education.

* Barbara Gerner De Garcia, the Secretary of the Executive Committee of the board for the National

Association for Multicultural Education.

* Archbishop Harry Flynn of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

* University Creation Spirituality, 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 renown Christian theologian. Fox is also the founder and

president of University Creation Spirituality.

* Pax Christi USA.

* Pax Christi Minnesota.

* National Trust Historic Preservation supports my efforts to revitalize the Sioux’s interest in

their heritage in the “Wakan River” area. The NTHP is a national non-profit organization that

provides leadership, education and advocacy to save our nation’s divers historic places and

revitalize our communities.

* AymaraNet, a South American organization with the world’s only internet site with information

on the Aymaras 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.

* Efforts to change the geographic name have also received support from 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.

In addition, a subcommittee of the Minnesota Historical Society’s Indian Affairs Committee just recently recommended that the MHS’s Indian Affairs Committee discuss the name-change issue at their next meeting. And they might also decide to support the name-change at that meeting.

I believe that by drawing attention to my 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 white Euro-Americans 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.