Mount McKinley, the tallest peak in North America, will again be officially called Denali, its Alaska Native name, the Associated Press reports.
The Obama administration made the decision to restore the 20,320-foot mountain’s original name at the request of Alaskan officials.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Denali Means ‘the High One’ or ‘Great One’ in the Native Alaskan Language
Denali is an Athabascan word meaning “the high one” or “great one.”
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told the Alaska Dispatch News that President Obama authorized her to change the name. She has the authority to do so under a 1947 law that allows her to make changes to geographic names through the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, according to the Dispatch News.
“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,” Jewell told the newspaper.
2. The Peak Was Named After President McKinley by a Prospector in the Late 1800s
The mountain was first called Mount McKinley by a gold prospector in the late 1800s as a way to politically support William McKinley’s bid for president. McKinley, who would become the 25th president, was assassinated in 1901 during his second term in office.
It was officially designated Mount McKinley in 1917.
3. Alaskans Have Been Fighting for the Name Change for Several Decades
A proposal to restore the native name of the mountain was first made by Alaskan representatives in 1975. That same year, the state government began to refer to the peak as Denali, despite the federal designation as Mount McKinley remaining in place, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
The latest bill to change the mountain’s name was proposed by Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan earlier this year. The Obama administration said in July that it would not block the name change.
“For generations, Alaskans have known this majestic mountain as ‘the great one.’ Today we’re able to officially recognize the mountain as Denali,” Murkowski said in a statement. “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.”
4. Representatives From Ohio, McKinley’s Home State, Have Opposed the Move
Despite McKinley having no connection to both the mountain the state of Alaska, politicians in his home state of Ohio fought against the name change for several decades.
A bill was proposed by Ohio Rep. Bob Gibbs in January that would have prevented a name change.
“Located in Alaska, Mount McKinley is the highest point in North America and has held the name of our nation’s 25th President for over 100 years,” Gibbs said in a press release. “This landmark is a testament to his countless years of service to our country.”
5. The Name Change Comes as Obama Heads to Alaska for a 3-Day Visit
The name change announcement comes as President Obama heads to Alaska for a three-day trip that will focus on climate change and the environment.
Obama spoke about his trip during his weekly address on Saturday (watch the video above), saying:
I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. Not only because Alaska is one of the most beautiful places in a country that’s full of beautiful places – but because I’ll have several opportunities to meet with everyday Alaskans about what’s going on in their lives. I’ll travel throughout the state, meeting with Alaskans who live above the Arctic Circle, with Alaska natives, and with folks who earn their livelihoods through fishing and tourism. And I expect to learn a lot.
One thing I’ve learned so far is that a lot of these conversations begin with climate change. And that’s because Alaskans are already living with its effects. More frequent and extensive wildfires. Bigger storm surges as sea ice melts faster. Some of the swiftest shoreline erosion in the world – in some places, more than three feet a year.
Alaska’s glaciers are melting faster too, threatening tourism and adding to rising seas. And if we do nothing, Alaskan temperatures are projected to rise between six and twelve degrees by the end of the century, changing all sorts of industries forever.
This is all real. This is happening to our fellow Americans right now. In fact, Alaska’s governor recently told me that four villages are in “imminent danger” and have to be relocated. Already, rising sea levels are beginning to swallow one island community.
Think about that. If another country threatened to wipe out an American town, we’d do everything in our power to protect ourselves. Climate change poses the same threat, right now.
Obama will become the first president to travel to the Arctic Circle during his Alaskan trip.
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