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Mount McKinley to be renamed Denali by Obama

Published 31/08/2015

Alaskans have always referred to Mount McKinley as Denali
Alaskans have always referred to Mount McKinley as Denali

President Barack Obama will change the name of North America's tallest mountain peak from Mount McKinley to Denali, bestowing the traditional Alaska Native name ahead of a visit to Alaska.

The White House announcement came as Mr Obama prepared to depart on a three-day visit to Alaska, becoming the first sitting president to travel north of the Arctic Circle.

As part of his visit, he is attempting to show solidarity with Alaska Natives, and planned to hold a round-table session with a group of Alaska Natives on arrival in Anchorage later today.

By renaming the peak Denali, an Athabascan word meaning "the high one," the president is wading into a sensitive and decades-old conflict between residents of Alaska and Ohio.

Alaskans have informally called the 20,320-ft (6,194m) mountain Denali for years, but the federal government recognises its name evoking the 25th president, William McKinley, who was born in Ohio and assassinated early in his second term.

"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," said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, who had pushed legislation for years to change the name, said Alaskans were "honoured" to recognise the mountain as Denali - a change in tone for the Alaska Republican, who had spoken out against Mr Obama's energy policies in anticipation of his visit to her state.

"I'd like to thank the president for working with us to achieve this significant change to show honour, respect, and gratitude to the Athabascan people of Alaska," Ms Murkowski said.

Prior efforts by Alaska's leaders to change the name date back to 1975, but have been stymied by members of Ohio's congressional delegation. It was unclear whether Ohio leaders or other opponents of the change would mount an effort to block the resignation.

The peak got its officially recognised name in 1896, when a prospector was exploring mountains in central Alaska, the White House said. Upon hearing the news that McKinley, a Republican, had received his party's nomination to be president, the prospector named it after him and the name was formally recognised.

The White House noted that McKinley never visited Alaska, and said the site is significant culturally to Alaska natives and central to the Athabascan creation story.

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