GOP feigned outrage of the day: Denali (no, seriously)


Ohio Republicans have their panties in a twist that President Obama has authorized Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to restore the name of the tallest peak in Alaska (and the U.S.) to its millennia-old native people’s name of Denali, from Mount McKinley, named after the 25th President of the United States who came from Ohio.

The Washington Post today has the story behind the original name change. How a 19th-century political ‘joke’ turned into a 119-year-long debate:

DenaliThe name Mount McKinley “was little more than a joke.”

That’s according to toponymist George R. Stewart, an expert in American place-names (apparently a real field of academic study).

There was no reason, Stewart explained in his 1945 tome “Names on the Land,” why a New Hampshire gold prospector of little consequence should have been able to christen America’s tallest peak.

But politicians, not toponymists, are the ones who control the nation’s maps, which largely explains how the craggy, ice-bound mountain remained named after America’s 25th president for more than a century.

William Dickey, the prospector behind “Mount McKinley,” was hardly the first person to spot the famous peak. The Russians, who controlled Alaska until 1867, had called it Bolshaya Gora (“big mountain”). English naval officer George Vancouver wrote about the “stupendous snow mountain” in 1794. Not to mention the Athabascan people, who arrived in Alaska several thousand years ago and had been calling the peak Denali, or “great one” [not accurate],  long before Europeans ever reached the Alaskan wilderness.

But Dickey was the only person to write an account in the New York Sun about his trip through the Alaska Range. He was also the only adventurer with the chutzpah to designate a geographic landmark for his favorite political candidate (perhaps it’s a good thing America is fully mapped now, otherwise we might end up with the Donald Delta or Clinton Creek).

He named the mountain “after William McKinley of Ohio, who had been nominated for the presidency, and that fact was the first news we received on our way out of the wonderful wilderness,” Dickey wrote in 1896.

McKinley, the Republican nominee, was an outspoken proponent of the gold standard. As a gold prospector with a vested interest in keeping the value of the precious metal high, Dickey picked the name as a form of symbolic revenge against silver standard supporters, with whom he spent much time bickering.

* * *

[W]hen Congress designated the area around the mountain a national park in 1917, the name “Mount McKinley” gained official federal recognition.

Shortly after Alaska gained statehood in 1959, Alaskans — many of whom had never stopped referring to the mountain as Denali — began to wonder why the state’s natural crown jewel should be named for a president from Ohio.

In 1975, the Alaskan legislature backed a proposal to switch the name back to Denali. But when the Board on Geographic Names requested public comment on the matter, Ohio Rep. Ralph Regula, who represents the district where McKinley grew up, swiftly came to Mount McKinley’s defense. He convinced the entire Ohio congressional delegation to oppose the recommendation, and the names committee put off the matter. He also added an amendment to the 1980 legislation expanding the national park around the mountain that would rename the park “Denali,” but keep “McKinley” for the peak, in hopes that a compromise would settle the debate.

But the pro-Denali contingent still wasn’t satisfied, so the congressman soon adopted a different tactic, according to the National Park Service’s “Administrative History of Denali” (a stirring read). Taking advantage of a policy that prevents the Board from considering any name changes regarding landmarks that are being considered by Congress, Regula reintroduced a resolution every two years mandating that “the mountain … in the State of Alaska in the United States of America known as Mount McKinley, shall retain the name Mount McKinley in perpetuity as an appropriate and lasting tribute to the service of William McKinley to his country.”

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This summer, after Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced yet another pro-Denali bill, the Columbus Dispatch issued an editorial chastising the “rather unseemly effort on behalf of a politician who never set foot near the mountain and had no known interest in it.”

“Ohio should gracefully concede,” the newspaper said.

The Obama administration’s announcement Sunday takes the decision out of the naming board’s and Congress’s hands.

“In changing the name from Mount McKinley to Denali, we intend no disrespect to the legacy of President McKinley,” Interior Department officials said in prepared documents. “We are simply reflecting the desire of most Alaskans to have an authentically Alaskan name for this iconic Alaskan feature.”

Ohio’s congressional delegation was, unsurprisingly, unhappy with the change. House Speaker John Boehner issued a statement against the renaming. Sen. Rob Portman quickly fired off a series of tweets saying he was “deeply disappointed” in the decision.

So just to be clear, Alaskans want Denali, and Alaska’s congressional delegation wants Denali. Alaska officially named the peak Denali in 1980, just not Congress. Alaskans refer to the peak as Denali, not McKinley.  It’s Republicans from Ohio who want to impose the name of McKinley on Alaska, like a conquering colonialist power. So much for respecting state’s rights and native peoples. Republican objections to the Obama administration’s name change smack of another case of Obama Derangement Syndrome.

So how is this story being reported in Alaska? Here is the Alaska Dispatch News. McKinley no more: North America’s tallest peak to be renamed Denali:

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.

Talk of the name change has swirled in Alaska this year since the National Park Service officially registered no objection in a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C.

The tallest mountain in North America has long been known to Alaskans as Denali, its Koyukon Athabascan name, but its official name was not changed with the creation of Denali National Park and Preserve in 1980, 6 million acres carved out for federal protection under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The state changed the name of the park’s tallest mountain to Denali at that time, but the federal government did not.

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.

“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 Alaska Dispatch News Sunday.

Every year, the same story plays out in Washington, D.C.: Alaska legislators sometimes file bills to change the name from Mount McKinley to Denali, and every year, someone in the Ohio congressional delegation — the home state of the 25th President William McKinley — files legislation to block a name change.

Members of Alaska’s congressional delegation said they were happy with the action.

“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,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said in a video statement recorded on the Ruth Glacier below the mountain.

Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said in an email that “Denali belongs to Alaska and its citizens. The naming rights already went to ancestors of the Alaska Native people, like those of my wife’s family. For decades, Alaskans and members of our congressional delegation have been fighting for Denali to be recognized by the federal government by its true name. I’m gratified that the president respected this.”

According to the order Jewell signed, there is a policy of deferring action while a matter is under consideration by Congress. So the Ohio delegation’s annual legislative efforts have stalled any federal movement. But the law does allow the interior secretary to take action when the board naming doesn’t act “within a reasonable amount of time,” the order said.

“It’s something (former Alaska Gov. Jay Hammond) pushed for back in 1975, and because of an effort to stop it in legislation that has not actually gone anywhere in the last 40 years, the Board of Geographic Names did not take it up,” Jewell said.

As interior secretary, she has authority to make a unilateral decision after a “reasonable time has passed,” Jewell said.

“And I think any of us would think that 40 years is an unreasonable amount of time. So we’re delighted to make the name change now, and frankly I’m delighted that President Obama has encouraged the name change consistent with his trip,” Jewell said.

Jewell said the “overwhelming support for many years from the citizens of Alaska is more robust than anything that we have heard from the citizens of Ohio,” and that filing the same legislation year after year has not been accompanied by any “grass roots support” in Ohio.

Neither Jewell nor Obama is expected to visit Denali during their trip to Alaska this week.

“But I’ve certainly been to the park before, before I took this job,” Jewell said.

“I am a climber — I have aspired to climb it, but I’m not sure it’s going to be on my list in the future, due to the fact that I’m not getting younger each year. But it’s a mountain that I’ve always respected and appreciated.

“I think most of us have always called it Denali. I know that’s true in the climbing community and I suspect it has been true in Alaska for a very long time. So it’ll just be great to formalize that with our friends at the U.S. Geological Survey and the Board of Geographic Names,” Jewell said.

The name “Denali” is derived from the Koyukon name and is based on a verb theme meaning “high” or “tall,” according to linguist James Kari of the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, in the book “Shem Pete’s Alaska.” It doesn’t mean “the great one,” as is commonly believed, Kari wrote.

This is some very good reporting from Erica Martinson, way better than the crap we are used to here in the lower 48. Kudos.

UPDATE: Here’s a thought, Ohio: Campbell Hill, Ohio is the highest point in elevation in the state of Ohio, at 1,550 feet (472 m). Campbell Hill was first known as Hogue’s Hill or Hoge’s Hill, perhaps a misspelling of the name of the person who first deeded the land in 1830, Solomon Hoge. In 1898, the land was sold to Charles D. Campbell, in whose name Campbell Hill is now known. Campbell later sold the hill and surrounding land to August Wagner. In 1950, the family of August Wagner deeded Campbell Hill and the surrounding 57.5 acres (233,000 m2) to the Federal government of the United States. The government then stationed the 664th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron on the hill in 1951. The Ohio Hi-Point Vocational-Technical District opened a school atop the hill in 1974, now known as the Ohio Hi-Point Career Center. There you go … it’s Ohio’s highest peak, rename it McKinley Hill, and stop your whining.


  1. Thanks. Good reporting and good read. Obama Derangement Syndrome has ground government to a halt for almost 8 years. If Obama said he loved the red, white, and blue, the Republicans would pass a resolution castigating him for not loving the stars and stripes.

  2. See this teeny, tiny violin…whiners. Honestly, doesn’t anyone even listen to their fake outrage anymore? They always pretend to be on 100.

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