Obama to rename tallest US peak in historic Alaska visit

31 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Obama Flexes, Renames Mount McKinley.

Denali is an Athabascan word meaning “the high one.” The name has long been a sore spot for Alaskans, who have informally called the 20,320-foot mountain Denali for years. President Barack Obama announced on Sunday that he is changing the name of Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America, to Denali. (Can he do that? The official renaming is expected to come during Obama’s trip this week to Alaska where he will try to garner support for ways to slow climate change. The announcement will come as the president begins a three-day visit to Alaska focused on the issue of climate change, one of Obama’s chief policy focuses entering his final months in office. Julie Kitka, president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, said in an interview Sunday that the new policy announcement would have a concrete as well as psychological effect on Native Alaskans. “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.

Under an order signed by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, the Denali name will also take effect for all federal usage and, therefore, on all official maps. In 1896, a prospector in the mountains of central Alaska named the range after William McKinley upon learning that he had been nominated as a candidate for U.S. president. Obama, who cited the Interior Department’s authority to change the name, will become the first sitting American president to visit the Alaskan Arctic during his trip there this week. As part of his visit, Obama is attempting to show solidarity with Alaska Natives, and planned to hold a round-table session with a group of Alaska Natives just after arriving Monday in Anchorage. For the local population, White House advisers say, climate change is a “present-tense issue.” Rising sea levels and coastal erosion claim a football field-sized parcel of land each day, requiring citizens to consider extreme steps like the relocation of entire communities to survive, they say.

But when European Americans discovered it in the 19th century, they renamed it Densmore’s Mountain and, later, Mount McKinley in an effort to boost the presidential candidacy of Republican William McKinley. The 20,000-foot-tall peak had been known as Denali — generally believed to be central to the Athabascan tribes creation story and the site of significant cultural importance to many Alaska Natives, according to the White House. The president will stay in Alaska through Wednesday and while there will attend a State Department-sponsored meeting on climate change, titled GLACIER/Global Leadership in the Arctic Conference.

Alaska has been petitioning for a name change since 1975, but a bipartisan effort by Ohio’s congressional delegation has blocked the effort by introducing bills requiring it to be named after McKinley, who was born in Niles, Ohio and buried in Canton. That’s because the United States Board on Geographic Names has a long-standing policy of not making name changes under consideration by Congress. “While the board does have a policy of deferring action when a matter is being considered by Congress, contradictory bills on this issue have been proposed by various members of Congress since the late 1970s,” Jewell said in her order. Upon hearing the news that McKinley, a Republican, had received his party’s nomination to be president, the prospector named it after him and the name was formally recognized.

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