North America’s tallest peak is will have its name changed from Mount McKinley to Denali, its traditional Alaskan Native name, but while Alaskans have celebrated the decision, Ohio legislators have sharply criticized it.
The name of the Alaskan mountain’s 20,322-foot peak has been at the center of a long battle between Ohio and Alaska.
To the people of Alaska, the peak has long been known as Denali, which means “the high one” or “great one” in Koyukon. However, in 1896, a prospector named it McKinley to show support for presidential candidate William McKinley, who was born in Ohio and served as the state’s governor.
McKinley was later elected president, but six months into his second term, he was assassinated without ever seeing the peak named after him or even visiting the state of Alaska.
In 1917, Mount McKinley became the peak’s official name with the establishment of Mount McKinley National Park, and the mountain retained its name even when the surrounding park was renamed Denali National Park and Preserve in 1980.
While the Alaska State Board of Geographic Names officially changed the peak’s name to Denali in 1975, efforts to get the federal government to do the same were continually met with opposition from Ohio.
But on Sunday, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced that the U.S. government would give the peak its traditional name.
"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," she said in a news release. "I think most of us have always called it Denali. I know that's true in the climbing community, and I suspect it has been true in Alaska for a very long time.”
President Barack Obama endorsed the decision, but, House Speaker John Boehner — who represents Ohio — said he was “deeply disappointed” by it.
"There is a reason President McKinley's name has served atop the highest peak in North America for more than 100 years, and that is because it is a testament to his great legacy," Boehner said in a statement.
Rep. Bob Gibbs, another Republican who represents Ohio, made a statement and declared the renaming a “constitutional overreach.”
"This political stunt is insulting to all Ohioans, and I will be working with the House Committee on Natural Resources to determine what can be done to prevent this action," he said.
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman took to Twitter Sunday evening to voice his complaints on the matter.