Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Mount Molehill

Mountain-shaped McKinley Tomb in Canton OH
On August 30th, 2015 President Obama changed the name of Mt. McKinley, the 20,237-foot mountain and the tallest in North America to Denali.
What is a lover of Ohio history and a Native American sympathizer like myself to do?
Ohio politicians are fit to be tied. Some are saying it's an example of the President circumventing Congress. Others say it's a slight against Ohio's martyred native son. A meme going around had racist overtones. Former Ohio Congressman Rep. Ralph Regula (R) went so far as to call Obama a dictator. Hyperbole much?

After some soul-searching (in the form of Google), I uncovered some things known as "facts".

Obama himself didn't really change or "decree anything". The headlines you see are mostly clickbait. More on that in a bit.

1896 adoption certificate
The mountain was known as Denali or Deenaalee, a Koyukon Native American word meaning “the high one” or “great one", for centuries. The first documented non-native sighting was by a Russian named Andrei Glazunov in 1834 who used a variant of the name "Tenada" in his 1839 map. Then along came a gold prospector in 1896 named William Dickey (not from OH but just gaga for gold and McKinley) who decided to call Denali, Mt. McKinley since he had just been named the Republican nominee for President. That's pretty good PR. McKinley was elected, served a full term, started the Spanish-American War, annexed Hawaii, got re-elected. But his main legacy is being assassinated in his second term by an anarchist in 1901. For that, he got a whole mountain.

The first mapped depiction of Denali
in an 1839 expedition
In 1917, sixteen years after the President's death, the US officially recognized the name Mt. McKinley when the surrounding national park was created.
Here's the thing. Charles Sheldon, who promoted the idea of creating McKinley National Park, wanted Congress to call the mountain Denali. They ignored that request. Alaska just kept calling the mountain Denali and has had a standing petition for the Federal name to be changed back to Denali since 1975. Ohio politicians kept blocking the 1975 proposal and the name remained Denali in Federal records. McKinley National Park was later renamed Denali National Park in 1980 without much controversy. But Mt. McKinley stayed. I suppose if they had done what Charles Sheldon wanted in the first place, we wouldn't even be discussing this now.

In 2015, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, citing authority in a 1947 law passed by Congress, changed the mountain name back to Denali. The 1947 law states that the  Interior Secretary can authorize name changes if the U.S. Board on Geographic Names does not act within a reasonable time. Alaska's entire Congressional delegation, Rep. Don Young (R-AK), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) praised the decision saying "Denali, the 'Great One' comes home" and "Today, the nation recognizes what Alaskans have known for generations". It's worth noting that Sen. Sullivan was born in OH just 70 miles from McKinley's birthplace.
McKinley was never here

The Obama administration isn't entirely innocent. The timing of the restored name came on the eve of a planned presidential visit with an emphasis on Alaska's connection to climate change. So there is some political maneuvering there. But it's not all rainbows and unicorns for Obama with the state of Alaska. Protesters are planning to greet the President. Not to protest the name change, but to urge him to reverse his decision to allow Shell Oil to drill in the Arctic.
Keep in mind that McKinley never visited Alaska and has absolutely no historical connection to the state of Alaska. None. Re-naming it Mt. McKinley in 1896 was the political stunt.

“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.”  - Interior Secretary Sally Jewell

The new 2015 GMC McKinley. Thanks, Obama.
McKinley, a pretty mediocre POTUS in historical rankings, has lots of things named after him, schools, streets, a gun club(!), memorials, a great tomb.
Get over it Ohio. It's embarrassing. I love you lots but you don't get to name mountains in Alaska.

Bonus trivia: McKinley was the first president to ride in an automobile. The one that took him to the hospital after being shot. There is no car named after McKinley, but there is a GMC Denali. Go figure.

Another Gehio post on McKinley

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