Why Is Obama Changing The Name Of America’s Tallest Mountain?
On the eve of a three-day visit to Alaska, President Obama has signed an Executive Order officially changing the name of the highest mountain in North America from Mt. McKinley to Denali, triggering emotional responses from Congressional delegations and speculation as to the president's motivation and timing.
President Obama, the first sitting president to travel to the Arctic Circle, scheduled a series of meetings and events during the visit, ostensibly to highlight climate issues.
However, given the move with Cuba, his pending nuclear deal with Iran, and the plan to release drug offenders from prison, the renaming of Mt. McKinley may be merely the latest in a series of ticks on a presidential “To Do” list as he enters the final 17 months of his administration.
This is not the first time the name of the 20,237’ peak has been at the center of a politicized debate. It was unofficially “named” in 1896 by a supporter of William McKinley, a Republican, the popular 25th president who won re-election in 1900 only to be assassinated just six months into his second term. His assassination generated genuine national grief, and the peak was officially renamed in his honor in 1917.
Obama’s action had some pundits noting that Obama’s policies and world view strongly conflict with the legacy of the first president of the 20th century.
The United States became a world power during McKinley’s years in office taking control of Puerto Rico, Guam, Hawaii and the Philippines. McKinley also led the U.S. in the Spanish-American War of 1899, which assisted Cuba in breaking free of Spanish rule.
Obama has made no secret of his antipathy to what he sees as American colonialism in the Pacific, and recently renewed diplomatic relations with the Castro government in Cuba leave the Cuban people no better off than they were under Spanish rule more than 100 years ago.
Alaskans have always referred to the peak as Denali, the Athabascan word meaning “the high one.” The state lodged a formal request for the name change with the federal government in 1975 following a statewide resolution was passed, but the move has been shelved for the past 40 years.
Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, made the announcement prior to Obama’s departure on Monday and, while the move pleased Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), it angered the Congressional delegation from Ohio who represent the constituents of President McKinley’s native state. Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the move.
U.S. Representative Bob Gibbs (R-OH) called the president’s action, “a political stunt that is insulting to all Ohioans” and pledged to consult with the House Committee on Natural Resources to determine what, if anything, can be done to prevent the action,” although it would appear to be too late to do so in light of Jewell’s announcement.
Although the U.S. Board on Geographic Names has the authority to name geographic sites by law, it has ceded that authority to Congress for decades. In renaming Mt. McKinley, Jewell cited a 1947 law that allows her department to change site names unilaterally when the Board fails to act “within a reasonable time.”