Two U.S. Senators from the state of Alaska have introduced legislation that would permanently change the name of Mt. McKinley back to its native name of Denali. This marks the latest attempt to get the mountain, which is officially named after William McKinley, the 25th President of the United States, renamed. Previous attempts to change the mountain’s moniker have been denied, although the bill will likely receive more support in the newly elected Republican Congress.
The legislation was introduced by U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, who argue that the mountain first received its name thousands of years ago by the Athabascan tribe, who called it “Denali,” which means the “the Great One” or “the High One” in their language. It wasn’t officially renamed to Mt. McKinley until 1917, although it has been referred to by that name for nearly 20 years prior to that by local prospectors and settlers.
At 20,237 feet (6168 meters) in height, McKinley is the tallest mountain in North America, and a significant climb amongst mountaineers. While the general public most commonly knows the peak it by its officially designated name, it has been referred to it as Denali for years in mountaineering circles. Regardless of the outcome of this legislation, that isn’t likely to change anytime soon.
While there will be more Republican support for a name change this time out, it won’t be without some opposition. Ohio Representative Bob Gibbs, who is a Republican as well, has introduced counter-legistiaiton aimed at blocking efforts to rename the mountain. President McKinley was from Ohio, and many people there still take pride in the fact that the mountain bears his name.
As you can imagine, in Alaska the sentiment is quite different. There, the indigenous people and others feel it is time to give the mountain its original name back. Denali is used commonly there to name streets, businesses, and even children. There has been a groundswell of support for the name change there for years, although most locals already refer to it by its Athabascan name anyway.
There is no word yet on when the vote on the bill will come to congress, and while it may seem like a rather trivial piece of legislation, it could get bogged down in committees to try to stall it out. Still, later this year, it is possible that Mt. McKinley will be no more, and everyone will refer to the mountain as Denali.
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