Denali will finally get its long-overdue name change, and most folks from Alaska are thrilled: Especially those of Native American descent, whose people have called the tall peak “Denali” for thousands of years. But guess who’s “deeply disappointed?”
“I’m deeply disappointed in this decision,” House Speaker John Boehner declared. Of course he is. First of all, he hates everything the Obama administration does on principle. Second of all, calling our nation’s tallest peak “Denali” instead of “Mount McKinley” means a huge downgrade for our 25th president, and Boehner’s fellow Ohioan, President William McKinley.
And sure, McKinley won the Spanish-American War and annexed far-flung territories like Guam, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Hawaii. But what does he have to do with Alaska and Denali? Nothing really. He’d never even seen Alaska. As Erica Martinson from the Alaska Dispatch Network explains:
The mountain was named for McKinley before he became president, by gold prospector William A. Dickey, who had just received word of McKinley’s nomination as a candidate in 1896. McKinley died without ever setting foot in Alaska, assassinated at the start of his second term in office.
So why the name change? U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell explains that she signed her Secretarial Order shortly before President Barack Obama’s visit to Alaska this week because Alaskans have never called their mountain anything but Denali. Furthermore, their state officials and lawmakers have been asking for an official name change for over 40 years, only to have it blocked over and over again by the long-dead McKinley’s zombie boosters in Ohio.
As Jewell told reporters, Alaska Gov. Jay Hammond began the push to bring back Denali’s true name way back in 1975:
“I think for people like myself that have known the mountain as Denali for years and certainly for Alaskans, it’s something that’s been a long time coming […] And I think any of us would think that 40 years is an unreasonable amount of time. So we’re delighted to make the name change now, and frankly I’m delighted that President Obama has encouraged the name change consistent with his [upcoming] trip [to Alaska].”
Back in 1975, the Alaska Geographic Names Board also changed the mountain’s name back to Denali in hope that the U.S. Geographic Names Board would follow.
Jewell also pointed out that the deep grassroots support of Alaskans — both Native and non-Native — for the name change far outweighs the senseless yammerings of McKinley’s handful of loud fans in Ohio.
Alaska’s Republicans are thrilled with the change, too, even though an Obama appointee set it in motion. Sen. Dan Sullivan wrote in an email:
“Denali belongs to Alaska and its citizens. The naming rights already went to ancestors of the Alaska Native people, like those of my wife’s family. For decades, Alaskans and members of our congressional delegation have been fighting for Denali to be recognized by the federal government by its true name. I’m gratified that the president respected this.”
Alaska’s other GOP senator, Lisa Murkowski, heartily concurred with her colleague in a video statement.
“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.”
Many people in Alaska, including Native Americans, say the word “Denali” means ‘the High One,” or “the Great One,” but Martinson mentions that James Kari, a linguist from the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, says the ancient Kuyukon name (also used by the Athabascans) simply means “high” or “tall.”
Daily Show Correspondent Puts The Denali Name Change “Debate” In A Nutshell.
In case you’re missing Jon Stewart, here’s a brilliant overview of the Denali name change “debate” from back in July with Daily Show correspondent Jordan Klepper hilariously playing a clueless #WhiteManSplainer. When he asks Evon Peter, vice chancellor for rural, community and Native education at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, what right he has to change 100 years of history, Peter adroitly smacks him down:
“A hundred years of history is like the blink of an eye for my people. We’ve been here for over ten thousand years.”
Meanwhile, all Kimberly Kenney, Curator of the William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum in Canton, Ohio can muster on behalf of McKinley is that, as a president, he was “above average […] certainly not the worst.” here’s the video.
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Editors’ note: The writer incorrectly referred to Denali and “Mount Denali,” we changed it, and we regret the error.