Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in an interview Tuesday that Denali might not be the name that people in the Midwest recognize "but it has long been the name in really the place that matters, which is the state that this incredible mountain sits."
"I have nothing against President McKinley whatsoever, but I would rather have this peak be called by the name it has gone by for centuries by Alaskans than a man who never set foot in our state," Murkowski said in a release. "This is the tallest mountain in North America and we deserve to have this Alaskan landmark bear an Alaskan name."
Ohio is the birthplace of President William McKinley, and for years, members of that state's congressional delegation have filed measures or included language in bills to retain the name Mount McKinley. One such bill was introduced last week by Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, who said in a release Tuesday that the name must be retained "in order to honor the legacy of this great American President and patriot."
Debate over a name change goes back decades. According to a National Park Service history, McKinley was the name bestowed on the peak by William Dickey in 1896, and it stuck because of his "'discovery' account" in a newspaper in 1897. Alaska Natives, Russians and American visitors had offered names of their own for the mountain over the years.
The name Denali is an Athabascan, or Alaska Native tribe, word meaning "the high one." Mount McKinley is located in Denali National Park and Preserve.
Murkowski, R-Alaska, introduced a version of her bill during the last Congress, and said she heard from people all over Alaska, thanking her for the effort. "This is important to Alaska and quite honestly, it's important to the Native people, it's important to all indigenous people that we respect and honor the names and traditions," she said in an interview.
She said she expects some opposition from those who have only known the mountain as Mount McKinley but said that opposition might be softening.
One of the most vocal opponents of a name change was Ohio U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula, who fought the idea through measures or language included in bills until his retirement in January 2009.
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