President Barack Obama approved a measure yesterday that officially changed the name of Mount McKinley in Alaska back to Denali, the name given to the mountain by Alaska’s indigenous Athabascan people.
The move was made to improve U.S. relations with the Native American community, but was nevertheless a point of controversy for Ohio Republicans who saw it as an affront to the legacy of Ohio-born Republican President William McKinley, despite the fact that President McKinley never once visited Alaska.
“This designation recognizes the sacred status of Denali to generations of Alaska Natives,” a White House press release said about the renaming. “Generally believed to be central to the Athabascan creation story, Denali is a site of significant cultural importance to many Alaska Natives. The name ‘Denali’ has been used for many years and is widely used across the state today.”
Republicans from the key election state of Ohio, however, were not keen on the renaming.
“I’m deeply disappointed in this decision,” House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said in an announcement.
Republican presidential candidate John Kasich said it was just another example of Obama overstepping his boundaries:
As POTUS once again oversteps his bounds, Ohio knows every carnation is a monument to our own William McKinley. -John pic.twitter.com/GvQfqnIKOh
— John Kasich (@JohnKasich) August 31, 2015
And Representative Bob Gibbs of Ohio’s seventh district took perhaps the harshest stance on the move, calling it a “political stunt.”
“President Obama has decided to ignore an act of Congress in unilaterally renaming Mount McKinley in order to promote his job-killing war on energy,” Gibbs said in a statement, referencing the fact that the White House simultaneously released a report on climate change in Alaska with the renaming. “This political stunt is insulting to all Ohioans.”
— Rep. Bob Gibbs (@RepBobGibbs) August 31, 2015
The act of Congress Rep. Gibbs is referring to is a 1917 federal decision to change the name of the mountain from Denali to Mount McKinley some 16 years after President McKinley was assassinated as a way to honor his legacy. But as noted in the White House’s press release, our 25th president never once stepped foot in Alaska, which was not yet a state when McKinley was in office.
“McKinley didn’t see it, didn’t travel there, didn’t do anything for the people of Alaska — it wasn’t a state yet,” Kimberly Kenney, curator of the William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum in Canton, Ohio, told NBC News.
But, following the backlash, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said today that the Department of the Interior would work with leaders in Ohio “to find the appropriate way to acknowledge President McKinley’s contribution.”
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