By Dia Ascenzi
North America’s tallest mountain, measuring 20,310 feet above sea-level, is located in Alaska. It’s the third tallest of the mountains on each of the seven continents, otherwise known as the Seven Summits, and may actually be the third tallest mountain in the world. What you may find surprising about this national and global landmark, is that for roughly a century there has been an ongoing feud regarding its rightful name. As of August 30th, 2015, Mount McKinley has officially be renamed “Denali.”
In the Koyukon Athabascan language, Denali means “The Great One” which actually was the mountain’s original name, given by the people of the surrounding areas. Then, in 1896, it was given the name Mount McKinley, named after the not-yet-elected president of the United States. In August of 2015, with the support of President Barack Obama, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, announced that the mountain would once again be given its original name. An article from the New York Times states that Obama did this in order to “restore an Alaska Native name with deep cultural significance to the tallest mountain in North America.”
Many are happy with this change, especially the Alaskan natives who have always referred to the mountain as Denali anyway. However, many representatives of the Republican Party are furious about this bold move by President Obama. In fact, until the recent renaming of Mount McKinley, the name dispute was visited by Congress almost on a yearly basis. Bob Gibbs, a congressman from President McKinley’s hometown of Ohio, tweeted about the matter, calling it a “constitutional overreach.” Several consecutive tweets from fellow Ohio Congressman Rob Portman parallel Gibbs feelings as he writes that he is “disappointed,” and calls the instance “another example of the President going around Congress.” Many republicans and Ohioans see this act as an insult to McKinley’s memory, and all of his deeds as President of the United States.
So, besides the name, what else ties this mountain to William McKinley? Interestingly enough, nothing. When it was named in 1896, McKinley had not even been elected yet, and was only a nominee. A gold prospector named William Dickey claimed that he chose to name it after the then governor of Ohio because of McKinley’s stance on the gold standard. This was done regardless of the fact that Dickey had no authority to do so, and the mountain already had a name that was centuries old. It wasn’t until 1917--more than 20 years later and 16 years after McKinley’s assassination--that the mountain was officially named Mount McKinley by the U.S. Government. For what it’s worth, at no point in his life did William McKinley visit the famous mountain, or even Alaska, for that matter.