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Senate to consider renaming McKinley to Denali


Photo courtesy USGS

A U.S. Senate committee voted last week to rename the tallest peak in North America, Mount McKinley, its original Koyukon-Athabaskan name of “Denali,” clearing a path for full Senate approval.

In a victory for the Native cultures of Interior Alaska, a U.S. Senate committee voted last week to rename the tallest peak in North America, Mount McKinley, to its original Koyukon-Athabaskan name of “Denali.”

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved the bill by voice vote on Tuesday, June 18, allowing the proposed legislation to go to a vote before the full body of the Senate.

Senate Bill 155 would officially rename the mountain, stating, “The mountain located … in the State of Alaska shall be known and designated as ‘Denali.’ Any reference in a law, map, regulation, document, paper, or other record of the United States to the mountain described … shall be deemed to be a reference to ‘Denali.’”

In Athabaskan history the mountain has always been known as Denali, which means “the high one” or “the great one,” depending on translation from the Native language. During the period of Russian ownership of the state it was known as “Bolshaya Gora,” which is a literal translation of “the great one.”

Senator Lisa Murkowski sponsored the bill and said the proper name of the peak is an important issue for all residents of the Last Frontier.

“In Alaska, we don’t refer to it as Mount McKinley; we just call it Denali. That’s what we’ve called it for decades and decades,” Murkowski said. “We, as Alaskans, aren’t shy about reminding folks about how big and how beautiful Denali is, and that it’s ours. Making Denali the official name of America’s tallest mountain really means something to Alaskans.”

The mountain was first surveyed in the early 20th century, with the title of Mount McKinley happening in 1896 when a gold miner called it by the name of future president William McKinley. The surrounding Denali National Park and Preserve was officially created in 1980 by former president Jimmy Carter.


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