Native name of “Denali” is being restored by Obama administration to Mt. McKinley
President Obama to Announce New Steps to Enhance Administration Collaboration with Alaska Natives, the State of Alaska, and Local Communities
Published August 30, 2015
ANCHORAGE— As part of the presidential trip to Anchorage, Alaska tomorrow, President Barack Obama will announce that the federal government has officially restored the Koyukon Athabascan name of Denali to the tallest mountain in North America, previously known as Mt. McKinley.
This designation recognizes the sacred status of Denali to generations of Alaska Natives. Denali means the high one or great one to the Koyukon Athabascan.
President Barack Obama at Choctaw Nation in July 2015- Photo by Reid Williams
While in Alaska, the President will meet with leaders from the Alaska Native community along with Governor Bill Walker, Lt. Governor Byron Mallott, and Senator Lisa Murkowski to discuss ways to strengthen cooperation between the federal government and Alaska Native tribes, including by furthering progress in developing cooperative management strategies for fish and wildlife.
Climate change threatens the way of life of Alaska Natives across the state, from the North Slope to Bristol Bay. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, and is experiencing the consequences. Higher average temperatures are diminishing the range of winter sea ice, allowing heavy storm surges that sea ice once kept at bay to batter the Alaskan coastline, and interrupting the winter hunting season for Alaska Natives. The northernmost reaches of the state are losing slightly more than a football field’s worth of land a day to coastal erosion and sea level rise. Rising ocean temperatures and increasing acidity are affecting marine life, including the fish, shellfish, and marine mammals on which generations of Alaska Natives have depended. And due in part to climate change, earlier this summer, hundreds of wildfires scorched more than 5 million acres of land–an area approximately the size of Massachusetts, damaging homes and threatening communities. 2014 was the hottest year globally on record and 2015 so far has been breaking records as well.
Throughout his time in office, President Obama has sought greater engagement and collaboration with American Indian tribes. Each year, the President has hosted a White House Tribal Nations Conference, bringing together tribal leaders from across the country. In 2014, the President made his first visit to Indian Country when he traveled to Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. He took his second trip to Indian Country in July when he visited the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
The President’s recently-launched Generation Indigenous initiative (Gen-I) seeks to improve the lives of Native youth through new investments and increased engagement. Today’s announcements builds on that record of accomplishment by addressing issues of concern for Alaska Native tribes.
Renaming the tallest mountain in North America to reflect the heritage of Alaska Natives. In 1896, a prospector emerged from exploring the mountains of central Alaska and received news that William McKinley had been nominated as a candidate for President of the United States. In a show of support, the prospector declared the tallest peak of the Alaska Range as “Mt. McKinley”—and the name stuck.
McKinley became our 25th President, and was tragically assassinated just six months into his second term. But he never set foot in Alaska—and for centuries, the mountain that rises some 20,000 feet above sea level, the tallest on the North American continent, had been known by another name—Denali. Generally believed to be central to the Athabascan creation story, Denali is a site of significant cultural importance to many Alaska Natives. The name “Denali” has been used for many years and is widely used across the state today.
Monday, finalizing a process initiated by the State of Alaska in 1975, President Obama is announcing that the Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell used her authority to rename the mountain as “Denali.”