Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Of Mountains and Molehills, Much Ado

A few are horribly upset that Obama renamed Mt. McKinley. He did and he didn't.  For a party whose advocates supposedly believe state rights, it seems to me that a number of right-wing pundits and a few in the conservative wing, are awfully upset over which flea owns the dog. I should point out that many elected Republicans also support the return of Denali.  One friend said it was a clear abuse of Obama's executive powers and went on to say this is one example showing  Obama as a dictator. This, of course, is the red meat fed not from the party but the right wing media. Strong stuff for a mountain that accidentally, more or less, got its name changed. The story of Denali vs. McKinley is the story of accidentally renaming a mountain, Ohio wanting a mountain in Alaska named for a native son, Alaska wanting to name its own mountains, a park named to honor an assassinated president and a law passed shortly after a World War.

Mt. McKinley's original name by the indigenous people was Denali which means literally Big or Tall or Great Mountain.* The first European to see the mountain was George Vancouver who called it a "distant stupendous mountain," but Vancouver left it unnamed. Ferdinand von Wrangel was actually the first person to give it a map name, Tenada, and I have no idea what that means. When Alaska was owned by Russia, it was commonly called Bolshaya Gora which means enough Big Mountain. Given the fact the natives also called it that, it seems kind of appropriate.

In 1897, a prospector named William Dickey named it in his journal as Mt. McKinley.  So in 1900 a government geologist named Josiah Spurr listed the name of Denali, as everything but Denali.  His list included a bad spelling of the Russian word for big, Mt. Allen and Mt. McKinley.  In geological reports, it was subsequently referred to as Mt. Mckinley.  After President McKinley was assassinated in 1901, congress created Mt. McKinley National Park in 1917 thus by default making the official name Mt. McKinley.

Alaskans, however, continued to refer to the area and the mountain as Denali.  In 1975, the Alaskan legislature officially requested the US government return it to Denali.  The U.S. Board on Geographic Names, who govern the naming of locations and was created in 1890, agreed but were blocked.  A single congressman, Ralph Regula, from Canton, Ohio, from where President McKinley hailed, used his influence to block the renaming. In 1980, McKinley Park was made a part of the much larger Denali National Park, leaving only the issue of the name of the mountain.

Ralph Regula
Regula used congressional procedures which basically killed any chance of actually changing the name. He would periodically introduce legislation into the budget or in separate legislation directing the name of McKinley be used.  Even if the legislation failed, as long as there was a bill on the agenda of congress, the Department of the Interior who oversees the recommendations of the Board on Geographic Names, could not meet the request of the Alaskan Congress and Governor because they cannot change a name while there is legislation pending.

Regula retired in 2009 and once again there was a move in the Alaskan legislature to change the name. Two more Ohio representatives, Betty Sutton and Tim Ryan, took up Regula's cause.  Regula is a Republican while the two new fighters for McKinley are both Democrats.

In 2015, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced that the name would be made Denali using a power given to the Secretary if the Board on Geographic Names failed to answer a request by a state in a reasonable amount of time.  Citing the Board's failure to meet the request of the name change for 40 years as being more than enough reasonable time, the name of Mt. McKinley became Denali. The law that gives the Secretary of Interior that power was passed by Congress in 1947.

As one Alaskan senator, Lisa Murkowski (R) put it, "There's a lot of things in Ohio that are already named after McKinley. This is no affront to our former president; this is all about ensuring that respect for the land and respect for the native people of the region is afforded." The current Governor of Alaska,  Bill Walker (R) was glad the name would now "reflect and respect the rich cultural history of our state..." President Obama made the name change even more official, if there is such a thing, by Executive Order in September of 2015.

So McKinley, which was basically accidentally named by a prospector and sloppy surveyor, has been returned to its original name as requested by Alaska.  No, Obama cannot rename other landmarks. In all this much ado, there is still a magnificent mountain that will be here long after we are all dust.  Now you know that it is just a tiny bit ridiculous for fleas to argue over who owns the dog or build a mountain out of a molehill.

*Thanks to for much of the well-documented historical information that I am too lazy to look up elsewhere.