Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Tribal Community

“Preserving, Protecting and Promoting the Dakota Culture for Future Generations”

The MMDTC is a tribal community, not yet federally recognized. We are a Tribal 501C3 org.

(It really helps our tribe)


is a Tribal 501C3 Org

Mendota Mdewakanton Newsletter


Wahkon, Rum River, Minnesota


This is an open Letter To County Commissioners Pondering Rum River Name-Change Effort written by Thomas Ivan Dahlheimer.

Mr. Dahlheimer requested that we post it. The views may or may not reflect that of the tribes.

Dear County Commissioners of Anoka, Isanti, Sherbrune and Mille Lacs Counties.

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 county boards of commissioners of the counties 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 boards of county commissioners of this area to better understand the complex and controversial Rum River name-change issue, so that if you choose to, you can, hopefully, come to a well thought-out and good preliminary position on this issue. A position that would, I hope, influence you to-upon receiving the required signed petitions, call for, and later conduct-a public hearing wherein you would have the authority to decide to present the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources with a proposed new name for the river, a name that would most-likely become the river’s new name.

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 be changed.

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 name.”

I believe in Upham’s account of how the river received its current English name. The Minnesota 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 tribal communities.”

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 social change.

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 these atrocities occurred. I believe that (1.) the cause of this negative situation is 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, 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 the county boards of commissioners of the four counties who are foremost challenged with this controversial Rum River name-change effort should-before taking a definitive position on this issue, weigh in the balance… how much suffering their perspective counties would have to go through-including, the economic burden of changing the river’s name, with how much good they could do if they were to do their part in securing a new name for the river. I believe that you important boards of county commissioners should do this, and do it with not only a four county 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 board of county commissioners is focusing on the Rum River name-change proposal, and evaluating how it should officially weigh in, I believe that 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 elsewhere.

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 (including Pax Christi International), 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. 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.

After you four important boards of county commissioners receive the required signed petitions, I hope that the above information will influence you to call for, and later conduct-a public hearing wherein you would choose to do your part in our state’s and nation’s governmental process to give the “Rum River” a new name, a name that would show due respect for the Dakota people and all indigenous people.

original letter can be found here: