Why The U.S.'s Tallest Mountain Changed Its Name, According To Obama

It will be called Denali again.

The tallest mountain in the United States will be officially called by its original native name, according to an announcement by President Barack Obama on Sunday. After a hundred years, Mt. McKinley will officially be called Denali, a name with significant cultural weight that Alaska Natives have called it for thousands of years.

The change was officially executed by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, who did so in response to a campaign headed by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski. In a video released Sunday, Murkowski said, "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."

Removing McKinley's name may seem sudden, but when you consider the history behind it, it makes a bit more sense.

The six million acre national park and preserve surrounding the mountain has always carried the Koyukon Athabaskan name Denali, meaning "the great one," and Google Maps has already made the adjustment on its app.

The 20,000-foot summit was christened "McKinley" in 1896, after a gold prospector learned William McKinley had won the Republican presidential nomination and felt the candidate could use an endorsement in the form of the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere. McKinley died during his second term and never visited Alaska, but Congress officially recognized the name in 1917.

The renaming coincides with the president's upcoming visit to Alaska, during which he plans to promote anti-climate change measures and meet with Alaska Native tribes to discuss initiatives there. More broadly, the move reflects the administration's stated intent to cultivate better relations with Native American tribes and follows the president's visit to a reservation last year, the first such visit by a president in over a decade.

(H/T: New York Times)

Cover image via iStock/mbarrettimages