When it comes to North America’s highest peak, a wrong has finally been made right. Alaskans everywhere — from Ketchikan to Kaktovik — celebrated to the news when U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell signed the name change from Mount McKinley to Denali.
Meanwhile, politicians in Ohio are complaining like ski bums in a snowless winter.
We get it, from their point of view President Barack Obama has just disrespected the memory of Ohio-born William McKinley, our nation’s 25th president. You’ve probably already read the news: House Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Bob Gibbs, both Ohio Republicans, oppose the decision, with Gibbs calling it a political stunt insulting to all Ohioans. Donald Trump also waded into the fray, decrying the President’s move.
The very notion of their outcries is actually far more offensive to Alaskans, particularly Native Alaskans. Not only is Denali the longest and most accepted title of the mountain since settlement of this area, but their statements also underscore an apparent historical ignorance about the 20,322-foot peak.
According to historical records, Athabascans have lived in the shadow of Denali for thousands of years. They have stories hinging around Denali and the surrounding mountains, stories that reference family, in some cases. The National Park Service says the first recorded reference to the mountain was made in 1794 by British explorer George Vancouver. The name of the mountain has unofficially changed a few times since, but none except Mount McKinley stuck, as an honor to President William McKinley.
But McKinley never set foot in Alaska. Not ever.
Futhermore, the McKinley name was offered up by a prospector, William A. Dickey. We mean no offense with this statement, but what right does Dickey have to overturn a thousand-year-old name for a mountain that bears no connection to McKinley?
Dickey had no right to rename the mountain; he didn’t discover it.
President Obama and Jewell simply made right a wrong; they “restored” the proper name.
There’s a bright side to all this: People are again talking about President McKinley. We see this as a wonderful opportunity for Ohioans to recognize the man in his home state with something more fitting.
McKinley, a Republican, won the general election in both 1896 and 1900, twice defeating William Jennings Bryan. He ran on a platform of promoting American prosperity and generally speaking his bold foreign policy opened the doors for the U.S. to play an increasingly active role in world affairs. Sadly, McKinley was killed by an assassin in 1901 in Buffalo, New York.
Today, all the talk and news calling the renaming “yet another example of government overreach” or just “offensive” seems like one big waste of time and energy on a stance that has no teeth and only makes the critics look like they haven’t done their homework.
Oh, and McDonalds? You might want to consider renaming your McKinley Mac.
— Juneau Empire, Sept. 3