Answers to common questions about Denali and its name following Sunday's announcement from the White House.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — North America’s tallest mountain will soon return to its previous name, Denali, more than a century after the Alaska peak was named to honor President William McKinley, who never set foot in the state.
The White House announced the change Sunday in a symbolic gesture to Alaska Natives. But the plan has politicians in McKinley’s native Ohio looking for ways to block the move. Some answers to common questions about Denali and its name:
Q: WHAT’S THE HISTORY OF THE MOUNTAIN?
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A: Various tribes of Alaska Natives known as Athabascans have lived in the shadow of the 20,320-foot Denali for thousands of years. The National Park Service says the first recorded reference to the mountain was made in 1794 by British explorer George Vancouver. Forty years later, Russian Creole explorer Andrew Glazunov noted in a journal that he saw a “great mountain called Tenada.”
In 1839, a map was published with an approximate location of the mountain with the name Tenada. But the park service says the name later got dropped from Russian maps and slowly disappeared.
Q: HOW DID IT GET THE NAME MOUNT MCKINLEY?
A: A prospector known as William A. Dickey named the mountain in 1896. The park service website notes Dickey’s account that he named the peak after McKinley, “who had been nominated for the Presidency, and that fact was the first news we received on our way out of that wonderful wilderness.” His account was published a year later in the New York Sun.
Q: WAS THERE A CHALLENGE TO THE MOUNT MCKINLEY NAME?
A: Yes, and fairly quickly. The U.S. Geological Survey disputed Dickey’s name in 1899, but the New York Sun stepped in and pointed out that Dickey’s accounts and maps were widely circulated in 1897.
Q: WHY IS THE MOUNTAIN SACRED TO ALASKA NATIVES?
A: There is no one common story among Athabascans as to why the mountain is sacred, but they all agree it is, said Will Mayo, a former president of the Tanana Chiefs Conference, a consortium of 42 Athabascan tribes in Interior Alaska.
One story, he said, describes Denali and neighboring Mount Foraker as husband and wife with eight sons — which are prominent and sacred hills located on Athabascan lands, places such as Mooseheart Mountain and Mission Hill.
“It’s not one homogenous belief structure around the mountain, but we all agree that we’re all deeply gratified by the acknowledgment of the importance of Denali to Alaska’s people,” he said.
Q: DID ALASKANS CALL IT MOUNT MCKINLEY?
A: Some did, but others invoked the state’s longtime attitude of, “We don’t care how they do it Outside” and called it Denali. Alaskans consider every place that isn’t Alaska “Outside.”
Alaska’s governor and congressional delegation praised the long-sought name change.
Q: WILL OHIO WILLINGLY GIVE UP THE NAME OF ITS NATIVE SON?
A: The renaming drew loud condemnations from Ohio lawmakers. But it was not immediately clear what they could do to stop it.
Ohio Republican Rep. Bob Gibbs said McKinley deserved to be honored and invited his colleagues to join him to try to block what he called Obama’s “constitutional overreach.” Other Ohio political leaders were not as adamant but expressed their disappointment in the change.
Q: HOW LONG HAVE ALASKA AND OHIO BEEN AT ODDS OVER THE NAME OF THE MOUNTAIN?
A: Since at least 1975, when the Alaska Geographic Board changed the mountain’s name to Denali and the state Legislature, governor and congressional delegation began to push for the name change at the federal level, said Jo Antonson, the state historian. The same year, Ohio Rep. Ralph Regula began the tradition of filing legislation to keep the name as Mount McKinley. The federal board that oversees place names would never take up the issue since there always was active legislation, Antonson said.
“It was just irritating,” she said.
Q: HOW DID PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA CHANGE THE NAME?
A: On the eve of a three-day trip to Alaska, the White House announced that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell changed the name by secretarial order, citing a 1947 law that allows the standardization of geographic names unilaterally when the U.S. Board on Geographic Names fails to act “within a reasonable time.” The board shares responsibility with the Interior Department for naming such landmarks.
Q: ARE THERE ANY POSITIVES IN THIS FOR MCKINLEY?
A: McKinley Presidential Library and Museum curator Kimberly Kenney said she’s happy for the Alaskans who have sought the name change for 40 years. She said she’s also glad that the 25th president is getting some attention.
“We’re glad people are talking about President McKinley,” Kenney said. “People don’t talk about him often.”
McKinley, a Republican, won the general election in both 1896 and 1900, twice defeating William Jennings Bryan. McKinley was killed by an assassin in 1901 in Buffalo, New York. He has no living heirs, Kenney said.
Associated Press writer Mark Gillispie in Cleveland and AP researcher Monika Mathur in New York contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show that the mountain’s name will be Denali, not Mount Denali.