Long before the highest peak in North America was called Mount McKinley in honor of President William McKinley, who was assassinated in 1901, it was called Denali — the Athabascan, or Native Alaskan, word meaning “the high one.”
President Barack Obama restored the name this week, just before his historic trip to Alaska — which has had a standing request to restore the peak’s name to Denali since 1975, The Associated Press reported. Obama will be the first sitting president to travel north of the Arctic Circle. He will also hold a round table session with Native Alaskans.
“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,” explained Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.
Although local residents have always called the mountain Denali, lawmakers in Alaska were happy that the name change is official.
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“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,” said Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska in a recorded video message.
Some lawmakers weren’t happy with the change. President McKinley never visited Alaska and hailed from Ohio.
Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio wrote on Twitter that he was “disappointed” with the administration’s decision to restore the mountain’s original name.
“This decision by the Administration is yet another example of the President going around Congress,” he wrote.
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“I urge (the administration to) work (with) me (to) find alternative ways (to) preserve McKinley's legacy somewhere else in the (national) park that once bore his name," he added.
The restoration of Denali’s name might overshadow the real intention of Obama’s visit — shedding light on climate change.
"The issue of climate change is not an issue of the future tense in Alaska, it is affecting people's lives and their livelihoods in real ways,” said White House senior adviser Brian Deese.
He added that parts of northern Alaska have lost a “football field's worth of land a day to coast erosions and sea-level rise,” CNN reported.
Obama has said before that four Alaskan villages are in “imminent danger” as the direct result of global warming.
"Think about that. If another country threatened to wipe out an American town, we'd do everything in our power to protect ourselves," Obama said in his weekly address. "Climate change poses the same threat, right now."
Photo credit: Denali National Park and Preserve/Flickr, WikiCommons