Obama renames nation’s highest mountain

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President Obama announced Sunday that his administration is renaming Alaska’s Mount McKinley to Denali, the name that nearby natives have long used.

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By taking action to officially name the 20,000-foot peak Denali, Obama is taking the Alaska Natives‘ side in a dispute that has stretched on for more than a century.

“Generally believed to be central to the Athabascan creation story, Denali is a site of significant cultural importance to many Alaska Natives,” the White House said in a Sunday fact sheet. “The name ‘Denali’ has been used for many years and is widely used across the state today.”

Interior Secretary Sally JewellSally JewellDem senators back Interior coal leasing review As climate crisis worsens, it's Interior Secretary Jewell who's being naïve Puerto Rico bill drops GOP’s wildlife refuge transfer MORE said the change recognizes that Denali is sacred to many Alaskans.

“The name Denali has been official for use by the State of Alaska since 1975, but even more importantly, the mountain has been known as Denali for generations,” said Jewell, who is responsible for the Board on Geographic Names, the federal body in charge of place names.

“With our own sense of reverence for this place, we are officially renaming the mountain Denali in recognition of the traditions of Alaska Natives and the strong support of the people of Alaska,” she said.

Alaska first formally requested the change when it recognized Denali itself in 1975. Denali means “the great one” in the local Athabaskan language.

Changing the name has often been a bipartisan legislative priority among Alaska’s congressional delegation. Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiSenators float bipartisan wildfire bill Overnight Energy: Lawmakers closing in on chemical safety deal GOP chair pushes Obama official on Arctic drilling plan MORE (R), the state’s senior senator and chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which is responsible for the matter, has sponsored legislation in every session of Congress to do so since taking her seat.

She hosted hearing on the bill earlier this year, at which a top National Park Service official said the Obama administration had no objection to the change.

Murkowski welcomed the news Sunday.

“For centuries, Alaskans have known this majestic mountain as the ‘Great One.’ Today we are honored to be able to officially recognize the mountain as Denali,” she said in a statement.

“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,” she continued.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) have also strongly supported efforts to change the peak's name.

“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,” Sullivan said in a statement. “I’m gratified that the president respected this.”

Efforts to rename the mountain have often faced strong opposition from Ohio and its congressional delegation in an attempt to preserve the honor of former President William McKinley, an Ohio native. The 25th president was a presidential candidate when a gold prospector first named the peak after him. But McKinley never visited Alaska, and he has no historical connection to the state or the mountain.

Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) introduced a bill in January to reaffirm the McKinley name, calling the mountain “a testament to his countless years of service to our country.”

Jewell is making the change official through an order to the Board on Geographic Names, citing Alaska’s longstanding policy and the name of the surrounding park, Denali National Park.

Obama announced the action as part of a series of efforts to improve outreach to Alaska Natives. He will meet Monday in Anchorage to discuss the efforts with Alaska Natives leaders and Gov. Bill Walker (I), Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott (D) and Murkowski.

The new actions include neighborhood revitalization funding for Anchorage, a native youth engagement program and wildlife management cooperation efforts.

— This report was updated at 6:30 p.m.