‘The Great One’ Returns: Obama Renames Mount McKinley to Denali

Wikipedia/(c) 2006 Derek Ramsey / The east side viewed from Denali National Park and Preserve, which surrounds the mountain.

Mount McKinley is no more.

President Barack Obama announced on Sunday that the mountain will be called Denali, its Koyukon Athabascan name, which means “the high one” or “the great one.” The peak plays a central role in their creation story.

Obama announced the name change for the tallest peak in North America the day before he headed to the Alaskan Artic for a three-day trip to promote combatting climate change, and address concerns of Alaska Native tribes, reported the New York Times. He’s the first sitting American president to visit the region.

The mountain came to be known as Mount McKinley after President William McKinley in 1896 when a gold prospector heard McKinley had won the Republican presidential nomination, and declared the tallest peak should be named after him to show support. The government formally recognized it as Mount McKinley in 1917, and efforts to change it began in Alaska in 1975, according to the New York Times.

This has been a long time coming for those who have been fighting for the name change. Like the Alaska Dispatch News reported, the story was always the same in D.C., Alaska legislators would file bills to change the name, and someone from Ohio—McKinley’s home state—would file legislation to block the change.

As not much of a compromise, in 1980, the national park surrounding the mountain was named Denali National Park and Preserve, but the Mount McKinley name remained.

“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,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who signed the order for the name change, told Alaska Dispatch News Sunday.

One of those long-time supporters is Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who introduced legislation in January to get the peak renamed, but again Ohio lawmakers tried to block it. She posted a video to YouTube Sunday, applauding Obama’s decision to change the name.

“For generations, Alaskans have known this majestic mountain as ‘the great one,’” she said in the video, appearing in front of the snow-topped mountain. “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.”

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