The name of the tallest mountain on the continent will be officially changed, the White House announced Sunday. Named after the 25th U.S. President, William McKinley, the peak will be called Denali, an Athabascan word meaning “the high one.”
“This designation recognizes the sacred status of Denali to generations of Alaska Natives,” the White House release said. Lawmakers from Alaska and Ohio have been engaged in a debate over the name of the peak since long. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska had introduced legislation in January calling for officially changing the name of the mountain.
“Officially changing the name from Mount McKinley to Mount Denali will show the long-standing significance that the name Denali holds for Alaskans,” Murkowski said, as reported by NBC News.
Renaming the mountain comes on the eve of President Barack Obama’s three-day trip to Alaska. The president will be visiting a receding glacier and meeting with the people living in Arctic communities.
The peak, towering at more than 20,000 feet, was named Mount McKinley in 1896 when a prospector exploring mountains in central Alaska heard that McKinley had received a party nomination for president. The prospector named the peak Mount McKinley, which was officially recognized by the government in 1917. While the name of the park surrounding the mountain was changed from Mount McKinley National Park to Denali National Park in 1980, the use of the name McKinley was retained to refer to the mountain.
The state of Alaska designated the mountain as Denali in 1975. In the same year, the legislature passed a resolution and then Governor Jay Hammond issued an appeal to the federal government. The state of Alaska has since been urging the federal government to change the name of the mountain.
“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,” Murkowski said.
Craig Fleener, a Gwich’in Athabascan who is an adviser to Alaska Governor Bill Walker, said the peak has been “a hallmark of Alaskan identity.” He praised Obama for the change.
Koyukon Athabascan Walter Harper was the first person to reach the peak of the mountain in 1913.
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