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Washington - Obama Renames Mount McKinley As Denali On Eve Of Alaska Trip

Published on: August 30, 2015 10:05 PM
By: AP
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FILE - This Aug. 19, 2011 file photo shows Mount McKinley in Denali National Park, Alaska. President Barack Obama on Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015 said he's changing the name of the tallest mountain in North America from Mount McKinley to Denali. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File)FILE - This Aug. 19, 2011 file photo shows Mount McKinley in Denali National Park, Alaska. President Barack Obama on Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015 said he's changing the name of the tallest mountain in North America from Mount McKinley to Denali. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File)

Washington - President Barack Obama will change the name of North America’s tallest mountain peak from Mount McKinley to Denali, the White House said Sunday, a major symbolic gesture to Alaska Natives on the eve of the president’s historic visit to Alaska.

By renaming the peak Denali, an Athabascan word meaning “the high one,” Obama waded into a sensitive and decades-old conflict between residents of Alaska and Ohio. Alaskans have informally called the mountain Denali for years, but the federal government recognizes its name invoking the 25th president, William McKinley, who was born in Ohio and assassinated early in his second term.

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“With our own sense of reverence for this place, we are officially renaming the mountain Denali in recognition of the traditions of Alaska Natives and the strong support of the people of Alaska,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

The announcement came as Obama prepared to open a three-day visit to Alaska aimed at infusing fresh urgency into his call to action on climate change. To the dismay of some Alaska Republicans, the White House has choreographed the trip to showcase melting glaciers and other cherished natural wonders in Alaska that Obama says are threatened by warmer temperatures.

But Obama’s visit is also geared toward displaying solidarity with Alaska Natives, who face immense economic challenges and have warned of insufficient help from the federal government. As his first stop after arriving in Anchorage on Monday, Obama planned to hold a listening session with Alaska Natives. The president was also expected to announce new steps to help Alaska Native communities on Wednesday when he becomes the first sitting president to visit the Alaska Arctic.

It was unclear whether Ohio would mount an effort to block the name change. There was no immediate response to inquiries seeking comment from Republican Rep. Bob Gibbs, House Speaker John Boehner and other Ohio lawmakers.

At 20,320 feet, the mountain stands as the continent’s tallest, and is still growing at a rate of about one millimeter per year, according to the National Park Service. Known for its majestic views, the mountain is dotted with glaciers and covered at the top with snow year-round, with powerful winds that make it difficult for the adventurous few who seek to climb it.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who had pushed legislation for years to change the name, said Alaskans were “honored” to recognize the mountain as Denali — a change in tone for the Alaska Republican, who had spoken out against Obama’s energy policies in anticipation of his visit to her state.

“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,” Murkowski said in a video message recorded atop the mountain’s Ruth Glacier, with cloudy snow-capped peaks behind her.

Gov. Bill Walker joined Murkowski and other Alaskans in praising Obama for the change. The state of Alaska has had a standing request to change the name dating back to 1975, when the legislature passed a resolution and then-Gov. Jay Hammond appealed to the federal government.

But those efforts and legislation in Congress have been stymied by members of Ohio’s congressional delegation eager to protect the namesake of the state’s native son. Even when Mount McKinley National Park was renamed Denali National Park in 1980, the federal government retained the use of Mount McKinley to refer to the actual peak.

The White House cited Jewell’s authority to change the name, and Jewell issued a secretarial order officially changing it to Denali. The Interior Department said the U.S. Board on Geographic Names had been deferring to Congress since 1977, and cited a 1947 law that allows the Interior Department to change names unilaterally when the board fails to act “within a reasonable time.” The board shares responsibility with the Interior Department for naming such landmarks.

The peak got its officially recognized name in 1898, when a prospector was exploring mountains in central Alaska, the White House said. Upon hearing the news that McKinley, a Republican, had received his party’s nomination to be president, the prospector named it after him and the name was formally recognized.

Obama won’t personally visit the mountain during his tour of Alaska. He’ll spend much of the trip in Anchorage, south of the peak, where Obama will speak at a climate change summit on Monday. While in Alaska, Obama also planned to meet with fishermen in Dillingham, hike a glacier in Seward and cross the Arctic Circle to visit the rural town of Kotzebue.

In an attempt to show Obama wasn’t coming to Alaska empty-handed, the White House on Sunday also announced plans to create a “young engagement program” to help rural and Alaska Native youth in the Arctic. The administration said it would also provide nearly $400,000 for a pair of commissions that govern local fishing, along with more than $1 million in funding from the federal government and Alaska groups to fund U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service advisers.



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Read Comments (5)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Aug 31, 2015 at 09:09 AM Anonymous Says:

Who the heck is he to change names of mountains.
Will he rename Mount Sinai to Mount Barak Hussein ?

2

 Aug 31, 2015 at 10:37 AM mason Says:

Reply to #1  
Says:

Who the heck is he to change names of mountains.
Will he rename Mount Sinai to Mount Barak Hussein ?

he is the President of the USA, elected by the majority of voters....

3

 Aug 31, 2015 at 01:16 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #1  
Says:

Who the heck is he to change names of mountains.
Will he rename Mount Sinai to Mount Barak Hussein ?

Did you come up with your reasoning all by yourself or did you ask a 2 year old to help you? By your "logic" it is not permissible to change names from earlier names. That being the case, of course Israel must revert to Canaan and Jerusalem should definitely revert to Urusalem, which was the pre-Jewish name. However, if you are not comfortable going that far back, we can just adopt the Roman name of Syria Palaestina. Does that make you feel better? New York should certainly go back to the original New Amsterdam as who were the British to change the name of a city? And, genius, Mt McKinley should go back to its original name of Denali, which is what the former and CURRENT Athabascan residents of that area called it before some white dude who was looking for gold named it after a president who had never visited Alaska at all.

4

 Aug 31, 2015 at 02:30 PM StevenWright Says:

Well if the mountain won't come to barak hussein......

5

 Aug 31, 2015 at 02:59 PM Raphael_Kaufman Says:

Well, he didn't actually rename it. The mountain's local (indigenous) name has always been Denali, much the same as Mt. Everest's local name has been Chomolungma. All the President did was make it the official geographic name so new maps will use "Denali" instead of Mt. McKinley. My question is when will the mountain's companion peak, Mt. Foraker (about 17,450 FT) be renamed to it's native name, in fact, what is it's native name?

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