Obama can rename Mount McKinley Denali — but he can’t stop its loss of ice

31 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Alaska-bound, Obama makes waves by renaming Mount McKinley as traditional name Denali.

U.S. With the approval of President Barack Obama, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has signed a “secretarial order” to officially change the name, the White House and Interior Department announced Sunday.The federal government named it Mount McKinley in 1896 after a gold prospector exploring the region heard that Ohioan William McKinley, a supporter of the gold standard, had won the Republican nomination for president.

There was no reason, Stewart explained in his 1945 tome “Names on the Land,” why a New Hampshire gold prospector of little consequence should have been able to christen America’s tallest peak. But politicians, not toponymists, are the ones who control the nation’s maps, which largely explains how the craggy, ice-bound mountain remained named after America’s 25th president for more than a century.

Obama flies to Anchorage on Monday morning for a three-day tour of the nation’s largest state, closely choreographed to call attention to the ways Obama says climate change is already damaging Alaska’s stunning scenery. For decades, the mountain has towered over the Alaskan taiga — still impressive, still impassive, still the tallest thing for five thousand miles in any direction — while members of Congress debated how to label it. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, said in a statement. “This landmark is a testament to his countless years of service to our country.” Gibbs also described Obama’s action as “constitutional overreach,” saying that an act of Congress was required to rename the mountain, because a law formally naming it after Ohio’s William McKinley was passed in 1917. “This political stunt is insulting to all Ohioans, and I will be working with the House Committee on Natural Resources to determine what can be done to prevent this action,” Gibbs said. “We must retain this national landmark’s name in order to honor the legacy of this great American president and patriot,” Democratic Rep. Julie Kitka, president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, said in an interview on Sunday that the new policy announcement would have a concrete as well as psychological effect on Alaska Natives. “It’s symbolic,” Kitka said, “but the practical thing is now on all the maps and all the descriptions it will have the traditional name. By showcasing thawing permafrost, melting sea ice and eroding shorelines, Obama hopes to raise the sense of urgency to deal quickly to slow climate change in the U.S. and overseas.

His excursion north of the Arctic Circle will make Obama the first sitting president to step foot in the Alaska Arctic, home to Alaska Natives who have received less attention amid Obama’s recent efforts to improve conditions for Native Americans. In a major show of solidarity, Obama announced on the eve of his trip that his administration is changing the name of North America’s tallest peak, Mount McKinley, to Denali, its traditional Athabascan name. Obama’s move to strip the mountain of its name honouring former President William McKinley drew loud condemnations from lawmakers in his native state of Ohio.’ Alaskan elected officials have tried several times since 1975 to get the U.S. Not to mention the Athabascan people, who arrived in Alaska several thousand years ago and had been calling the peak Denali, or “great one,” long before Europeans ever reached the Alaskan wilderness. He was also the only adventurer with the chutzpah to designate a geographic landmark for his favorite political candidate (perhaps it’s a good thing America is fully mapped now, otherwise we might end up with the Donald Delta or Clinton Creek).

Yet Obama was to navigate far more turbulent political waters when he arrived Monday afternoon in Anchorage, where his grand declarations on climate change have been met with skepticism by leaders in a state that’s heavily dependent on oil revenues that have fallen precipitously. He named the mountain “after William McKinley of Ohio, who had been nominated for the presidency, and that fact was the first news we received on our way out of the wonderful wilderness,” Dickey wrote in 1896. As the AP reports: Obama and [Secretary of State John] Kerry are intensely focused on a global climate treaty that nations hope to finalize in December, as the president works to secure his environmental legacy before leaving office. And before the president’s critics start throwing around the phrase “power grab” with too much enthusiasm, let’s also note that the Alaska Dispatch News’ report added, “Jewell’s authority stems from a 1947 federal law that allows her to make changes to geographic names through the U.S.

The president has pledged a U.S. cut in greenhouse gas emissions of up to 28 percent by 2030, compared to 2005 levels, and planned to use the Alaska visit to press other nations to commit to similarly ambitious measures. They took particular offense at his administration’s move just a few weeks ago to give Royal Dutch Shell a final permit for expanded drilling off Alaska’s northwest coast. “I share people’s concerns about offshore drilling. For the last 40 years, Ohio Republicans have resisted any change – McKinley is one of six presidents from the Buckeye State – characterizing the restoration of Denali as a slight. Yet he said the economy still had to rely on oil and gas while it transitions to cleaner renewable fuels, and said his administration was ensuring risks were minimized.

Still, there was resistance to “Mount McKinley.” Missionary Hudson Stuck, a member of the first team to reach the mountain’s 20,237-foot summit in 1913, lobbied hard for the peak to be re-labeled Denali. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, sought to shift attention back to Alaska’s energy needs. “I want to highlight one aspect of Arctic policy that I hope will be at the forefront of the discussion: the people who live in the region, and their need for sustainable economic activity,” Murkowski said, praising oil revenues for funding advances in medicine, communications and basic infrastructure.

Stuck often spoke out against the mistreatment of Alaskan Natives and apparently believed that they were more in need of appreciation than McKinley (who was, after all, already on the $500 bill). Shortly after Alaska gained statehood in 1959, Alaskans — many of whom had never stopped referring to the mountain as Denali — began to wonder why the state’s natural crown jewel should be named for a president from Ohio. His visit continues Wednesday in Dillingham, in southwest Alaska, where Obama will meet with fishermen locked in an ongoing conflict with miners over plans to build a massive gold and copper mine in Bristol Bay, home to the world’s largest salmon fishery. But the pro-Denali contingent still wasn’t satisfied, so the congressman soon adopted a different tactic, according to the National Park Service’s “Administrative History of Denali” (a stirring read).

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