Denali or Mt. McKinley?

Picture of Denali

Picture of Denali

I was invited on Facebook to join a group who wants to properly rename different land marks in our nation. Mt. McKinley or Denali is one of the places they want renamed. I never knew the history before; I only knew Denali was the native name. Mt. McKinley was named by a gold miner who was showing support for the 1896 presidential election of William McKinley, who never visited Alaska, and William Jennings Bryan. McKinley favored gold while his opponent liked silver.

The State of Alaska officially recognizes Mt McKinley as Denali, and the US government acknowledged the name when Denali National Park was created in 1980. Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK, retired) introduced multiple bills to officially rename the mountain as Denali, but was constantly opposed by Representative Ralph Regula (R-OH, retired), who represented an area of Ohio that contains Canton, William McKinley’s hometown. Though Regula has retired, two other Ohio congresspeople, Betty Sutton and Tim Ryan have pledged to continue obstructing attempts to rename Denali.

Alaska State House Representative Scott Kawasaki (D-Fairbanks) recently introduced a resolution (HJR-15) to urge the US congress to finally change the name to Denali. Denali (or Dinale) translates to “The Great One” in Athabascan dialects common to native peoples north of the mountain, and is known as Doleika to the Dena’ina people in the south. By recognizing the prominent feature by a traditional name, Denali, the US government would take a step toward reversing years of cultural genocide of Alaska Native peoples.

I have always wondered what was with the two names, but having two names myself, never got interested enough to find out the reason. I am now considering how many other national monuments or land marks are binomial. Is it right for a place that is known as one name to its native people to be changed for political reasons?


3 Responses

  1. A good question, I wonder why a mountain cannot have two names? There is a Mountain in the San Gabriel Range near my home that is officially named Mount San Antonio. However, colloquially it is known as “Mount Baldy.” In fact, I did not know the official name of this mountain until I was 26 years old. Official names do not necessarily change the nature of a thing, Leningrad was always St. Petersburg to many Russians, and the Falklands remain the “Malvinas” to the Argentinians, so Denali/Mt. McKinley can probably manage with a dual identity as well.

  2. We have a similar story locally, with Mount Jumbo / Mount Bradley:

    “Mount Bradley, also known as Mount Jumbo, is 3,337 feet high and is on Douglas Island with Douglas, Alaska at its foot. In the early years it was named Mount Jumbo, possibly after the Jumbo mining claim located near its base. The people of Douglas in 1939 petitioned the Board of Geographic names to have the mountain renamed after Frederick Worthen Bradley. Mr. Bradley, 1863 – 1933, was president of the Bunker Hill Mine and Sullivan Mine in Idaho, president of the Tacoma Smelting Co., president of the Alaska Juneau Gold Mining Co., and president of the Treadwell, Mexican, and Alaska United Gold Mining Companies – the latter three on Douglas Island southeast of Douglas. He was also a director of the First National Bank of Juneau as well as banks in San Francisco. He was awarded the Saunders Gold Medal for outstanding achievement in mining.”


  3. St. Petersburg was Leningrad for a period of time because the Russians weren’t free to stop it. Once the Communists were overthrown, the Russians got rid of the name Leningrad quicker than a day-old tampon. Now back to the Denali case, why the official name is still McSomething why everybody calls it Denali? Are we under the yoke of some nefarious force like communism that forbids us to change the name to Denali? I thought we are a free people. Last time I check all political parties have been bragging about us being free for a very long time.

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