New effort to rename mountain Denali

Ohio Congressman continues to fight against name change

Posted: Monday, August 20, 2001

ANCHORAGE - The Tanana Chiefs Conference has launched another effort to restore the original Athabascan name to the tallest peak in North America.

Attempts to change the name of Mount McKinley to Denali have been thwarted for the past 26 years by Ohio Congressman Ralph Regula, who represents the district in which President William McKinley lived.

"He was a martyred president and a good one, I might add," Regula said recently. "In any event, the mountain was named after him many, many years ago."

But the mountain had been called Denali long before McKinley lived and died, Alaskans have argued over the years. McKinley, many have noted, never set foot in Alaska.

In 1975 the Alaska Legislature voted to restore the name Denali, an Athabascan word popularly translated as "the great one."

Regula has kept the U.S. Board on Geographic Names from acting on the state's petition. Each January after the voters send him back to Washington for another term, he introduces a one-sentence bill saying the renowned Alaska peak "shall continue to be named and referred to for all purposes as Mount McKinley."

His bill goes nowhere. But its mere introduction is enough to stop the board from acting on Alaska's request.

But the nonprofit Tanana Chiefs Conference, which represents Alaska Natives in the Interior, is renewing the effort with help from the Alaska Historical Commission.

The 20,320-foot mountain is central to the Athabascan story of creation, said anthropologist Jim Simon, who works for Tanana Chiefs.

"You're not even supposed to talk about it that much, because it is sacred," he said. "To simply talk about it makes it secular. It demeans it. And to name it after someone - to give it proper respect, you would never give it a name after a person."

The Tanana Chiefs Conference adopted a resolution last year urging that the mountain's name be restored to Denali, and that the name of the neighboring peak be changed from Mount Foraker to Denali Be'ot, meaning "Denali's Wife."

Joseph Foraker was an Ohio senator, a contemporary of McKinley.

The Alaska Historical Commission has voted unanimously to recommit itself to the re-naming effort.

Regula, though, seems unlikely to give up on his commitment to honor the man known as "the idol of Ohio."

Regula said he doesn't feel that he is thwarting the will of Alaskans.

"I did an informal survey when I was up there a couple of years ago," he said. "Most people could care less."

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