Tuesday, September 1, 2015
While some are questioning his authority in the matter, most persons are applauding Obama's most recent executive order to restore the name of the country's highest peak to Denali. For local natives and most Alaskans it has always been Denali, but by one of those little quirks in history the peak became associated with McKinley, when an gold explorer decided to name the peak after the Presidential candidate for supporting the Gold Standard in the 1896 election. The name stuck after McKinley's assassination, and the federal government officially recognized it as such in 1917.
Efforts to reverse the peak's name date back to 1975 by Alaskan legislators. A compromise was struck naming the national park itself Denali, but the peak remained McKinley mostly to appease Ohio legislators who wanted their native son to be memorialized in perpetuity. It didn't matter that McKinley never set foot in Alaska nor expressed any interest in the mountain as President. In fact, it was Theodore Roosevelt's efforts that led to the establishment of a national park encompassing the peak and its surroundings.
Nevertheless, Ohio legislators are upset, as is Governor Kasich over this name change. He says people of Ohio feel the name is appropriate, but then why should a peak in Alaska be of any real interest to them. Why not rename the Ohio River the McKinley River if the former President is that important to them? I don't imagine this "issue" will get much traction in the election, unless of course the Donald decides to chime in, but most likely he will make an Instagram video ridiculing Kasich.
For the people that matter, this decision was a long time coming, not that the local Athabascans ever recognized it as Mt. McKinley. For them Denali has always been their point of origin. Just the same, Sen. Lisa Murkowski personally congratulated President Obama from the foot of Mt. Denali in this video. No word yet from Sarah Palin. She probably doesn't even know who McKinley was, but give her time to form her thoughts and I'm sure she will have something spicy to say on the subject.
For President Obama it helps to reset the national policy toward native American tribes, something he had promised back in 2008. We also live in a time when most Americans view indigenous inhabitants with respect and some even try to make genealogical connections, as if to prove their "Nativism." For the native inhabitants of Alaska, the restoration of the peak's name was long overdue.