If Paul Durand had been one of the Native people he spent his life studying, he might have been dubbed Kikapoo Zibi. That's Ojibwa for "He-Moves-About," which is what Durand spent a half-century doing in search of the original Indian name for every lake, river, creek, forest, hill and dale in these parts.

"On trips, no matter where we were driving, there'd be an Indian reservation, a friend, someone he'd heard of, that we'd stop and see," said Durand's son, Brian.

All that work came to fruition in 1994, when Durand self-published "Where the Waters Gather and the Rivers Meet" and completed a windshield-sized map of the region. Scores of Dakota, Ojibwa and French names dot the map, along with one odd outlier: Fort Snelling.

It's a representation of the area circa 1850, before there was a Minnesota, only a river called Mi-Ni So-Ta (Dakota for "Translucent Waters").

One doesn't have to be fascinated with history or current events (such as the Mdewakanton Sioux's recent property purchases in Shakopee) to spend serious time poring over the map, which covers hundreds of square miles and is loaded with eye-catching icons and tongue-twisting nomenclature.

Some of the names are nearly indecipherable, while others have at least phonetic familiarity, such as Lake Waconia, nee Mde (Lake) Wa-Ko-Ni-Ya ("The Breathing Hole of the Gods").

Quite the life's work -- except that Durand, who was a spry 76 when he "completed" the book and map, kept at it, right up until his death last June at age 89.

"He never stopped collecting names," said Brian Durand.

"He had a big metal box filled with 3-by-5 index cards, plus papers and books piled up on the dining room table. We ate in the kitchen a lot," he said.

"Yes, I think you could call it an obsession," said Dorothy Durand, Paul's widow, with a gentle smile. "But he was a very humble man, so he always called it his little book."

And the little book is now getting a revamp. Brian and his sister, Sue Busse, are culling a slew of typed notes, index-card scribblings and illustrations in the hopes of publishing a second edition of the book in the next few years. The Durand family and the Indian activist group Heart of the Earth Center for American Indian Education have been negotiating a deal to make full-sized prints of the map, with some proceeds going to Indian youth programs.

But Brian Durand indicated that he'd prefer to wait until the publication of the updated book before completing such a deal. He is starting a website, www.wherethewatersgather.com, with information on the map and a means of registering to receive notification when the map and/or book are again available. He also hopes to list libraries and other locations where people can view the map or book (which is such a rare commodity that copies are on sale at used-book website www.alibris.com for up to $379.04.

Hunting and gathering

Paul Durand, who was white, developed an ardor for all things Indian at an early age in south Minneapolis. When playing cowboys and Indians, "Paul always had to be the Indian," his widow said. As a Boy Scout he searched arduously for arrowheads. Alas, she said, "he never found one."

Durand enjoyed eminently more success tracking down appellations over the years, traversing the region and putting in some serious time at the Minnesota Historical Society.

"He knew enough French to translate all of Joseph Nicollet's papers," Dorothy Durand said. "He'd go to Prairie Island to visit the elders. He'd think nothing of pulling over and talking to people who might have some information."

The timing was right, Brian Durand pointed out, "because if he had tried to do it now, the people he needed to talk to would be gone." But it was still a daunting task, especially given that the federal government had outlawed Indian ceremonies and language in 1891.

"The government didn't want us to know our Indian names," said longtime activist Clyde Bellecourt. "They wanted us to all be Matthew, Mark, Luke or John."

Indeed, Bellecourt noted, he was well into adulthood before learning of his Indian name: Nee Gon Nway Wee Dung, or "Thunder Before the Storm."

"Paul found the people, the storytellers, over a 50-year period," Bellecourt said. "When I met him, he was in his 80s, but he still was just like a little boy when it came to this."

Bill Ward • 612-673-7643