In a Minnesota/Coldwater Spring [Ethnographic Resource Study] Michael J. Evens, a Park Service Senior Cultural Anthropologist, stated that: The discussion of this religious being [Unktehi] in Dakota cosmology should probably also include the information presented by Walker for the Lakota. In brief, [James R.] Walker's texts indicate that Unktehi was a malevolent being (but not a spirit being) that was perceived as being dangerous and to be avoided.
James R. Walker wrote: Unktehi is a mythical being like a goblin whose disposition was malicious. It presided over floods, drowning and, accidents in water.
To the Dakota Mille Lacs was an awesome thing. Beneath its waters dwelt a capricious god, who was prone to sudden fits of anger. A warrior could start out upon its glassy surface with every indication of a calm and uneventful passage, and before he could reach the farther shore the waves might be running high enough to swamp his canoe.
The Dakotas believed strongly in the existence of supernatural beings, both "good" and "evil". However the concept was not quite as cut and dried as the Judeo/Christian ideas many of us are familiar with. Evil supernatural beings were feared, yet their existence was vital for the balance of all things. They were considered a necessary evil. Without the negative there could be no positive.
There was Iya, the Dakota "storm monster", and there was Unktehi, the Dakotas "water monster". While the destruction these evil supernatural beings could bring was feared, it was also respected. Much care was taken to show reverence, so not to incur their wrath. Many Dakota believed that Iya was a head-hunter, using human beings as trophies. Unktehi ate people. However, when Iya and Unktehi were pleased, protection was offered. Unktehi even gave good gifts occasionally, such as the medicine lodge. As much as they feared Iya and Unktehi they believed that the destruction was part of the life cycle. In respect to the acceptance of the Unktehi's destructive ways, this Dakota belief changed.
The Thunderbird, an important figure in Dakota mythology, represents the natural forces of thunder, lightning, and storms. It is also believed to protect humans by fighting against Unktehi. A Dakota myth says: The water monster Unktehi thought the people were lice, and she and her followers tried to drown them. The people retreated to the highest hill they could find and prayed for help. Wakan Tanka (the Great Spirit), manifest as Thunderbird, came to fight Unktehi and sent lightning crashing to earth. The ground split open, and Unktehi and her followers drained into the cracks. As a result, humankind was saved.
The Unktehi (who are many) were said to have been the source of many floods when they puffed up their bodies, causing rivers, lakes and streams to overflow. The Thunderbirds protected humans from these water monsters in an epic battle to make the world a safer place for people to live, and in doing so gained the water power by taking it from Unktehi.
In 1914, Finger, a distinguished shaman, said: The Unktehi or Monsters, are material gods, whose substance is visible, but they hide under the deep waters. Their forms are those of huge reptiles with horns that can be projected to the Clouds and tails that beat down forests. They tear the ground with their claws and make deep ravines; they defile waters and make then unfit for use by mankind; they lurk near shore to capture children, and in deep waters to take adults. These they hold in bondage under the waters or transmogrify them to water animals. The Winged God (Thunderbird) is forever at war with them and in battle with them they gore the ground making the bad lands, where may be seen the bones of Unktehi that were slain. A Shaman whose fetish is of the highest potency can subdue the Unktehi and drive them away and can undo their magic deeds.
In one story, Eya, the West Wind, son of Tate, the breath of life encounters Thunderbird. Thunderbird then invites Eya to place his tipi beside Thunderbird's lodge on Thunderbird Mountain. "Together with you, I will purify the world from all filthy things. We will sweep it and wash it and water the ground. We will cause all that grows from the ground to flourish and bear leaves, flowers and fruits. We will give nourishment to all that breathes and cause their growth. We will combat the Unktehi the monsters that defile the waters."
I believe that, according to the Dakota, the Unktehi were evil supernatural beings who occasionally did some good things when placated. And I believe that now-days some of Minnesota's Dakota activists and their white historian allies are distorting the truth about the Unktehi for the purpose of gaining leverage to accomplish their activist goals. They distort the truth by saying that the Unktehi are "good" or "sacred" and that when some Unktehi have been traditionally believed to be located in a particular place this makes that place "sacred" or "more sacred".
If an area is believed to be sacred (for other reasons), as is the Mendota/Coldwater Spring and Mille Lacs Lake areas, by the Dakota and some of the Unktehi are believed to be still located in those areas, I believe that the Unktehi (or rather the belief that the Unktehi are still there, along with the promotion of this belief of theirs) desecrates/defiles those areas, rather than makes them "more sacred". And I believe that, according to the Dakota belief, the presents of a Unktehi, or more than one Unktehi, in any area has always meant the defilement of those areas...and that their presents was also thought of as a temporal necessary evil and that by tolerating and placating the Unktehi they could gain a few good gifts from them, while tolerating their predominantly destructive ways and malice.
A group of deceptive Dakota activists and their white historian allies are not only using the Dakotas traditional belief in Unktehi in an untruthful way for the purpose of gaining leverage to accomplish their activist goals, they are also using other deceptive tactics to accomplish their goals. Their deceptive tactics are being exposed (in on-line book reviews, web sites and on-line articles, including my article, The Coldwater Spring Deception) by historians and activists who know the truth and are working to put an end to their deceptions.
I have seen some evidence that the deceptive tactic associated with Unktehi will be coming to the Mille Lacs area.
A historian who is working with some deceptive Dakota activists in the Mendota/Coldwater Spring area of Minnesota wrote: A male Unktehi was addressed as grandfather, the female, grandmother, while the name Unktehi was not normally used. Instead the term Taku-wakan or "that which is wakan," or sacred, was used to describe these spirits.
James R. Walker wrote that the term Taku-wakan means (things that are mysterious). The malevolent Unktehi were mysterious, but not sacred. All of the Wakanpi (supernatural beings) both those which were good and those that were evil expected the proper ceremonies to be given them. Walker wrote: "The earth is animated by the spirit of the female, while the dwelling place of the male is in the water. It is on this account that the Dakotas address their prayers to the earth as their Grandmother, and the water as their Grandfather."
There is some value in there being Dakota stories about the Unktehi once-living in places that the Dakotas believe are traditionally and currently sacred. These oral and written stories present evidence of how much their traditional religion is intertwined with the landscape within their sacred places. Their sacred places were like temples to them. The Mendota/Coldwater Spring and Mille Lacs areas are sacred places to the Dakota people. How can they truly practice their traditional religion today, when their sacred "temples"/places have been taken from them?