The Inertia

Denali Restored as Official Name of Mount McKinley

Photo: Galyna Andrushko

The Inertia

President Barack Obama employs his executive powers once again, this time restoring Denali as the official name of the mountain most of the American public have come to know as Mount McKinley. The announcement comes on the eve of Obama’s upcoming trip to Alaska.

According to The New York Times, while in Alaska, Obama plans to “spend three days promoting aggressive action to combat climate change, and is part of a series of steps he will make there meant to address the concerns of Alaska Native tribes.”

“It is the latest bid by the president to fulfill his 2008 campaign promise to improve relations between the federal government and the nation’s Native American tribes, an important political constituency that has a long history of grievances against the government,” the Times explains, ”

The historical renaming of Denali (which means “The Great One” and holds particular significance with the Koyukon Athabaskan people) to Mount McKinley nearly a century ago has long been perceived as an insult to native Alaskans. The 20,237-foot mountain became Mount McKinley in 1896, when it was christened as such by a gold prospector in honor of then-presidential candidate (and soon President) William McKinley of Ohio; however, it wasn’t until 1917 that the government officially recognized the name change, an order signed into effect by President Woodrow Wilson.

Two Senators from Alaska, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, introduced the bill to restore Denali as the official name earlier this year; needless to say, supporters were ecstatic to see it happen without having to run the normal course of legislation.

“For generations, Alaskans have known this majestic mountain as ‘the great one,’”Murkowski says. “I’d like to thank the president for working with us to achieve this significant change to show honor, respect and gratitude to the Athabascan people of Alaska.”

But not everyone is happy. In fact, a sizable demographic right there in the middle of the contiguous United States are downright pissed — the main rabble-rousers being Ohioans of course. And boy oh boy are are they fuming.

According to The Hill, none other than Speaker John Boehner, Senator Rob Portman, and Representative Bob Gibbs leading the dissent.

“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,” Boehner said in a statement.

However much you might agree with the name change, there is a justification of sorts in their dissent.

“The naming of the mountain has been a topic of discussion in Congress for many years,”Portman tells the newspaper. “This decision by the Administration is yet another example of the President going around Congress” — which the President has done time and time again, especially in an environmental context. But let’s be honest, their concern isn’t bureaucratic, it is political, and it’s not like presidents before him haven’t done the same. That is not saying it is right, simply that there is a precedent.

“I now urge the Administration to work with me,” Portman offers in a compromise of sorts, “to find alternative ways to preserve McKinley’s legacy somewhere else in the national park that once bore his name.”

Fortunately Gawker is already on it, providing a list of suitable alternatives. My favorite suggestion? Splash Mountain.

Read the full story on The New York Times.

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