The televised flight map on Air Force One still called it Mount McKinley, but President Barack Obama was all about capturing the historic moment that Denali – now the name of North America’s tallest peak – came into view.
Obama snapped a photo of the gleaming mountain, with an elevation of about 20,000 feet (6,100 meters), and posted it to Instagram – part of a push to draw attention to his tour of parts of Alaska threatened by climate change.
Alaska natives had long called the mountain Denali, meaning “the High One” – a name that the rest of the state adopted too.
But in 1896, a gold prospector dubbed it Mount McKinley after hearing that Ohioan William McKinley, a champion of the gold standard, had won the Republican nomination for president.
The state has been pushing for 40 years to try to officially restore the name, blocked by Ohio lawmakers in Congress, who wanted to keep the name McKinley as a tribute to the 25th U.S. president, who served from 1897 until his assassination in 1901.
After meeting native leaders, Obama said he was pleased that his administration was “returning the most magnificent peak in our nation to its original name, Mount Denali.”
The change was hugely popular in the state.
“This means a great deal to our elders, that the value of our culture is respected and honored in this way,” said Evon Peter, vice chancellor for rural, community and native education at the University of Alaska – Fairbanks.
But Republican Speaker John Boehner and other elected leaders from Ohio have said they were disappointed.
“There is a reason President McKinley’s name has served atop the highest peak in North America for more than 100 years, and that is because it is a testament to his great legacy,” Boehner said, citing McKinley’s military and political service.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest, brandishing a paper copy of an updated map hot off the presses from the National Park Service, said the Interior Department plans to work with Ohio leaders to find another way to pay tribute to McKinley.
He said he did not know whether there was an estimate of the cost of changing the place name. “My guess is they’re not going to throw away any perfectly good maps, but you’ve got a sample here of the next run,” he said.