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Obama restores Mount McKinley, the tallest North American peak, to its original name of Denali

Reuters/National Park Service/Tim Rains/Handout
“The great one.”
By Adam Pasick
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

US president Barack Obama has announced a gift for his hosts this week in the state of Alaska—a decision to rename the state’s 20,237 ft. (6,168m) peak to its Native American name of Denali after more than a century of being named after Obama’s long-ago predecessor, William McKinley.

“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 told the Associated Press.

The decision to name the mountain after McKinley was a bit random in the first place: A gold miner named it in support of the not-yet president, who was still on the campaign trail, in 1896. The name Denali, on the other hand, has long been used by the Koyukon Athabaskan people who live in the area, meaning “the high one” or “the great one.”

The national park encompassing it has been called Denali National Park since 1980. But the renaming of the mountain has long been blocked by the congressional delegation for the US state of Ohio, from which McKinley himself hailed. The Obama administration said that the interior department had unilateral authority to rename the mountain as it saw fit.

Obama is visiting Alaska this week for a meeting with foreign ministers from countries with Arctic territory to discuss how climate change is affecting the region. The president’s decision comes several months after his Treasury secretary announced plans to remove founding father Alexander Hamilton from the $10 bill and replace his portrait with a woman from the annals of American history.

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