Mt. McKinley’s Original Name Restored


Image: Denali | Han Vu | Shutterstock

After a long history of debate, Alaska’s Mt. McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America, has been renamed: the mountain will now be known as Denali, its original name. President Obama announced on Sunday that the mountain would be renamed, perhaps as part of a bid to improve the White House’s relationships with the nation’s indigenous people.

Denali’s place in American history has been long regarded as a work of blatant imperialism. Denali, meaning “the high one” in the Alaska Native language of Athabaskan, was renamed Mt. McKinley in 1896 in support of President William McKinley. Legislation to call the mountain Denali has been blocked for decades, and not everyone is pleased with the recent name change.

People in and from Ohio are somewhat resistant to the decision, as McKinley also served as a governor of Ohio, 1892-1896. John Boehner, current Speak of the House, said that he is “deeply disappointed” in the announcement. “There is a reason President McKinley’s name has served atop the highest peak in North America for more than 100 years, and that is because it is a testament to his great legacy,” he said.

There is also some resistance to the decision in Ohio who see the name change as disrespectful to McKinley and to Ohio history. Regardless, the President voted in favor of the bill, perhaps freed from the need to make Ohio, a notorious swing state, happy. Some have said that the President overstepped his bounds, arguing that he went around Congress’ wishes as well as the state’s.

However, secretary of the interior Sally Jewell lauds the decision as well as Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, who said that she would “like to thank the president for working with us to achieve this significant change to show honor, respect and gratitude to the Athabaskan people of Alaska.” President McKinley, largely a forgotten president otherwise, never visited Alaska or did anything for its people, says Kimberley Kenney, curator of the William McKinley Presidential Library.

Denali, which stands at a proud 20,322 feet, can now also be a proud beacon for Native people.

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