In anticipation of President Obama’s historic visit to Alaska, the White House announced on Sunday that it would restore the name of Alaska’s Mount McKinley, America’s tallest peak, to its traditional name ‘Denali,’ in a sign of respect to Native American communities. This move has predictably sent the Republican Party into a rage spiral.
Denali, which means “the high one” or “the great one,” is over 20,000 feet tall. It was named “Mount McKinley” by a gold prospector in 1917, in tribute to the 25th U.S. president (who had no connection to Alaska). The state of Alaska has been pushing for a name change since 1975. According to the White House, the move “recognizes the sacred status of Denali to generations of Alaska Natives.”
Conservatives around the country have exploded against Obama’s decision, claiming that he is overstepping his bounds and is merely performing a political stunt which targets a Republican president.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-OH, wrote on Twitter: “I’m disappointed with the Administration’s decision to change the name of Mt. McKinley in Alaska… This decision by the Administration is yet another example of the President going around Congress.”
House Speaker John Boehner also stated that he was “deeply disappointed in this decision.”
Karl Rove joined the conservative Twitter reaction to Obama’s action, also taking the opportunity to coincidentally promote his new book on President McKinley.
Republican commenters can’t seem to see past the party politics, viewing Obama’s move as an attack on Republicans, rather than a recognition of Native American tradition. Republican consultant Derek Ryan retweeted the story, commenting sarcastically: “Because we can’t have mountains named after Republican presidents.”
Ohio Governor and Republican presidential candidate John Kasich also accused Obama of “overstepping his bounds.”
The great irony in all of this is that the name change was strongly supported by Alaska’s Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, who said in a video: “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.” The decision was also welcomed by Bill Walker, Alaska’s governor. Even Sarah Palin used the name ‘Denali’ to refer to the mountain in her 2009 farewell address.
Alaskans have been fighting for a name change for 40 years, but have faced resistance from legislators from Ohio, the state where McKinley was born. However, author George R. Stewart has claimed that the name ‘Mount McKinley’ was “little more than a joke.” William Dickey, the gold prospector who devised the name, had no special claim to naming the mountain, and he did so because McKinley, who was merely a presidential candidate at the time, was a supporter of the gold standard.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.