Yesterday, President Obama announced that he would use his executive powers to rename the tallest mountain in North America back to its original Inuit name of Denali. The 20,322 foot (6194 meter) peak had been named after President William McKinley, but in recent years there has been a movement afoot to switch the name back to its original title, which means “the great one” amongst the native tribes of Alaska.
The move comes just as the president sets out on a three-day visit to Alaska, where he will address some moves that the administration will take to combat climate change. During his time in office, Obama has also sought to improve relations between the U.S. government and Native Americans as well.
McKinley has long been referred to as Denali in mountaineering circles, so this change will be a welcome one for the men and women who climb the mountain. It is known as a challenging climb, with unpredictable weather often preventing teams from reaching the summit. It is also used as a warm-up of sorts before heading to Everest, as climbers can get valuable experience and technical skills while on Denali’s slopes.
The mountain officially received the name of McKinley back in 1917, but there have been efforts to change it back for the past 40 years. In 1980, the land surrounding the mountain was named Denali National Park as a compromise of sorts. But Native Americans in Alaska have pushed to have the mountain’s name restored in recent years, although those attempts had been rebuffed by the U.S. Congress thus far. In using his executive powers, Obama has circumvented congress altogether, and renamed the mountain completely on his own. By doing this, he has already raised the ire of more than a few senators.
Personally, I feel this name change is a long time coming and I’m glad to see that it has been made official. I don’t think I’ve called it “McKinley” in years, except when talking to someone who doesn’t know anything about its history and mountaineering legacy. Now, we can all call it by its rightful name as is fitting for a peak of such prominence.
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