On the eve of his three-day trip to Alaska, President Barack Obama announced on Sunday that he will be using his executive power to rename Alaska’s Mount McKinley, which will now be known by its traditoinal Koyukon Athabascan name of Denali.
The announcement was followed by a press release from Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel explaining the move as one that was made to honor the traditions of Alaska natives, and was the result of a request that has been pending for nearly 40 years.
“This name change recognizes the sacred status of Denali to many Alaska Natives,” Secretary Jewell said. “The name Denali has been official for use by the State of Alaska since 1975, but even more importantly, the mountain has been known as Denali for generations.”
At over 20,000 feet about sea level, the newly renamed Denali holds the highest peak of any mountain in North America. Denali—the Koyukon word for tall—was the traditional name for the mountain by the native Athabaskan people. In the late 1800s a gold prospector named the mountain after then-presidential candidate William McKinley, who went on to win the election the following year. The name stuck, even after McKinely was tragically assassinated just six months into his second term.
McKinley never set foot in Alaska, and for years the name of the mountain was seen as a slight to the Athabaskan people. In recent decades there was a movement to “restore” the mountain’s original name.
“Recognizing the long history and discussion about the name of this iconic American mountain, the time has come to restore the traditional Alaska Native title Denali for this landmark, which holds great significance to the people of Alaska,” National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis commented.
In 1975, Alaska Governor Jay S. Hammond requested that the Secretary of the Interior designate Mount McKinley as Denali, and the proposal has never been withdrawn. For decades the proposal lingered until Secretary Jewel finally resolved it on Sunday when she approved the name change.
However, not everyone is happy with the new designation. Several lawmakers from Ohio, the home state of President McKinley, announced that they would work to retain the presidential moniker.
“We must retain this national landmark’s name in order to honor the legacy of this great American president and patriot,” Representative Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) told Fox News.
“This political stunt is insulting to all Ohioans, and I will be working with the House Committee on Natural Resources to determine what can be done to prevent this action,” added Representative Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio).
Ohio lawmakers argued that the name change is another example of presidential overreach. Alaskan legislators supported the name change. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who had previously butted heads with the Obama administration over other issues, praised the new name for North America’s highest mountain.
You can see a video from Senator Murkowski below:
Image courtesy Ken Conger/National Park Service