On March 10th, 2008 the Saint Paul Pioneer Press, a Minnesota state-wide daily newspaper, published an article about the effort to change the name of the Rum River.

Title: Rum River may flow back to its roots

Opening statement: Activist seeks to restore its Dakota name of Wakan

By Brady Gervais
bgervais@pioneerpress.com

In the Dakota language, Wakan means "Great Spirit" or "Great Mystery."

It is what indigenous people called the river that snakes from Lake Mille Lacs to the Mississippi River.

Today, it's called the Rum River, likely the result of a mistranslation by white settlers in the 1700s of what spirits the settlers found great, say a few historians.

Centuries later, there is a small movement to correct the 145-mile-long river's name. Activist Tom Dahlheimer is leading a push to rename the north suburbs waterway the Wakan River. Its current name and its alcohol reference is demeaning, he said.

"It's about restoring the fundamental human rights of indigenous people," said the 61-year-old Dahlheimer, who lives near Lake Mille Lacs in Wahkon, Minn. It's been a project of his for more than a decade. But lately, he's gotten some face time with several key leaders to discuss the idea.

He has lobbied city and county officials up and down the river. Now, he has expanded his campaign to the Legislature.

Prodded by Dahlheimer; state Rep. Mike Jaros, DFL-Duluth, introduced a bill in the Legislature last May that suggests changing the names of 14 rivers and lakes in Minnesota, and offers new names for each.

"(Dahlheimer) wants to change offensive names, and Im all for it," Jaros said. "I dont think we should have anything offensive against anyone."

The bill has yet to get to any committee action.

Jaros said he needs a supportive resolution from the state Indian Affairs Council before he can take the legislation further. On his Web site, Dahlheimer has posted a draft resolution that he wrote for the council. Thats as far as the effort has gone.

Dahlheimer has been at his mission for 11 years. Anoka Mayor Bjorn Skogquist thinks theres still a long road ahead of the activist.

But the mayor pointed to the city of Cambridge as a place where Dahlheimers efforts have succeeded. The Cambridge City Council named a nature area in the Isanti County seat the Spirit River Nature Area instead of the Rum River Nature Area.

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