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General NewsA new, old name

January 1, 2016


Denali / Mount McKinley, Denali National Park

It’s the highest mountain in North America. It is 20, 310 feet (6,186 meters) tall. For many years, its official name was Mt. McKinley. But in August 2015, President Obama changed the name of the mountain to Denali, its traditional Alaskan name. This name change ended many years of confusion.

The first people in the area nearly 10,000 years ago were the Athabascan Native Americans. They called the mountain “Deenaalee.” It means, “the great or tall one.” Early maps of the area by American geologists record the name of the mountain as “Denali.”

But in 1896, William A. Dickey, renamed the peak after his friend William McKinley. McKinley became the 25th president of the United States and was later killed in office. The government wanted to honor this president, so Denali officially became Mt. McKinley.

However, many people in Alaska did not like the name change. Dickey did not discover Denali. He had no right to change the name. And, President McKinley never came to Alaska. Alaskan maps continued to call the mountain, Denali.

For about 30 years Alaskan representatives to Congress tried to change the name of the mountain back to Denali. However, representatives from Ohio, William McKinley’s home state, always stopped the change.

Finally the dispute is settled. The mountain’s new old name is Denali.

Photographer: Christoph Strässler / Flickr

Published January 2016

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