The Corner

Obama Decides to Rename America’s Tallest Mountain

As noted in today’s Jolt, we’re deep into the “YOLO*” stage of this presidency. Finally, for all of you who felt that naming the country’s highest mountain after President McKinley represented some sort of intolerable outrage…

President Obama announced on Sunday that Mount McKinley was being renamed Denali, using his executive power to restore an Alaska Native name with deep cultural significance to the tallest mountain in North America.

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.

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.”

Needless to say, this is not sitting well with Ohio’s Congressional delegation, home state of William McKinley.

“I’m disappointed with the administration’s decision to change the name of Mt. McKinley in Alaska,” Sen. Rob Portman said in a series of Tweets. “President McKinley was a proud Ohioan, and the mountain was named after him, as a way to remember his rich legacy after his assassination. The naming of the mountain has been a topic of discussion in Congress for many years. This decision by the Administration is yet another example of the President going around Congress. I urge the administration to work with me to find alternative ways to preserve McKinley’s legacy somewhere else in the national park that once bore his name.”

Why does Portman think the Obama administration will change its methods, when the president and his staff face no real consequence for ignoring Congress?

For what it’s worth, the Alaskan delegation prefers the “Denali” name:

In 1975 the Alaska Geographic Names Board changed Mount McKinley to Denali and, at former Gov. Jay Hammond’s request, the Alaska Legislature asked the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to follow suit. Rep. Ralph Regula of Ohio blocked the petition.

After taking on Alaska’s delegation for five years, Regula employed a sneakier tactic. In 1981, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names adopted a policy to not render a decision on a name if the matter was also being considered by Congress. Regula introduced a series of bills and amendments declaring that the name of Mount McKinley shall not be changed. Since Regula’s retirement, Sen. Lisa Murkowski has attempted to rename the mountain Denali at least twice. Those attempts were quashed by two new representatives from Ohio.

Murkowski and GOP senator Dan Sullivan introduced new legislation to rename the mountain in February: “The Athabascan people of Alaska already named this great mountain thousands of years ago,” said Sullivan.  “They called it Denali, the ‘Great One.’ Denali absolutely belongs to Alaska and its citizens – and with all due respect to my colleagues and the good people of Ohio, where President McKinley was born and where I have many friends and family, the mountain is not theirs to name.  The naming rights already went to the Alaska Native ancestors of my wife and daughters’ people.”

But hey, signing passed legislation is a pre-Obama presidential duty.  It’s another chapter of “fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”

* “You only live once.”


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