What’s in a name? When it comes to naming North America’s tallest mountain, plenty. The Alaska Dispatch News reported last night:
It’s official: Denali is now the mountain formerly known as Mount McKinley.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 announcement comes roughly 24 hours before Obama touches down in Anchorage for a whirlwind tour of Alaska.Denali is the Koyukon Athabascan name for the mountain.
As political naming disputes go, this one’s a doozy. As Craig Harrington noted, this isn’t a case of President Obama “re-naming” a mountain, so much as he’s “un-re-naming” it.
For generations, the mountain was called Denali, but that changed in 1896 when a pro-McKinley gold prospector named it “Mt. McKinley” as a way of supporting the Ohio Republican’s presidential campaign.
McKinley didn’t climb the mountain, and in fact, he never even saw it. Native communities, not surprisingly, didn’t appreciate the name change, and Alaska has long supported the restoration of the original.
This is not, in other words, a case of the White House ignoring state authority or local control. On the contrary, Alaska has officially pushed for designating the mountain as Denali since 1975. Yesterday, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) heartily endorsed the administration’s action.
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. Board on Geographic Names, according to the department.”
So, who’s against the move? 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. Right on cue, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) issued a statement expressing his deep disappointment with the announcement.
Evidently, the Obama administration is doing it anyway.
For more background on this, “The Daily Show” actually had a great segment on the story a couple of months ago.