Mount McKinley to Revert Back to Original Native Name of Denali

After an over three-decade fight to change the name of North America’s tallest mountain, the federal government has ruled favorably for indigenous Americans and their supporters. As the New York Times reports:

The move came on the eve of Mr. Obama’s trip to Alaska, where he will spend three days promoting aggressive action to combat climate change, and is part of a series of steps he will make there meant to address the concerns of Alaska Native tribes.

It is the latest bid by the president to fulfill his 2008 campaign promise to improve relations between the federal government and the nation’s Native American tribes, an important political constituency that has a long history of grievances against the government.

Denali’s name has long been seen as one such slight, regarded as an example of cultural imperialism in which a Native American name with historical roots was replaced by an American one having little to do with the place.

The central Alaska mountain has officially been called Mount McKinley for almost a century. In announcing that Sally Jewell, the secretary of the interior, had used her power to rename it, Mr. Obama was paying tribute to the state’s Native population, which has referred to the site for generations as Denali, meaning “the high one” or “the great one”.

The peak, at more than 20,000 feet, plays a central role in the creation story of the Koyukon Athabascans, a group that has lived in Alaska for thousands of years.

Not only was the mountain’s original namesake, President William McKinley, not born in Alaska (he was an Ohio native) but he had no ties to the state whatsoever, nor did he ever visit it (at the time Alaska was still a fresh and largely unexplored territory). Plus, as The Atlantic points out, the mountain acquired the president’s name under very suspicious circumstances (namely as an “epic act of tolling”, to use the article’s own apt term).

So given all that, I think this is a sensible move for more reasons than one.

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