Stop Calling It Mount McKinley. It's Denali.

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Stop Calling It Mount McKinley. It's Denali. Stop Calling It Mount McKinley. It's Denali.
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Stop Calling It Mount McKinley. It's Denali.

by Mary Slosson

June 9, 2013

Let's talk about Mount McKinley. Today marks the 100-year anniversary of the first successful summit of the beautiful mountain, a feat accomplished by the expedition of American missionary Hudson Stuck on June 7, 1913. The first man to the top of the mountain on this historic day 100 years ago was Walter Harper, a native of Alaska.

The only problem is that the mountain shouldn't be named McKinley at all. 

The Alaskan behemoth, which comes in at 20,320 feet and is the highest peak in all of North America, has long been known by its Athabascan name Denali, meaning "The Great One." A gold prospector single-handedly changed the name to McKinley in honor of the American president from Ohio. Many refuse to recognize the name, including the Alaskan Board of Geographic Names and the National Park Service. But Congress refuses to switch the name back to Denali. Even Stock, the organizer of the successful summit 100 years ago, argued in his book about the ascent that he supported "restoration to the greatest mountain in North America of its immemorial native name."

American national park history is rife with similar examples—mountains and national parks whose longstanding names, frequently given by American Indians, were replaced by Anglican versions. Take Zion National Park, for instance. When it was granted federal protection, officials adopted the local name. President William Howard Taft signed an order in 1909 designating the place Mukuntuweap National Monument, using the Southern Pauite name (meaning "straight canyon"). National park officials later feared that the American Indian name would keep visitors away from its stunning beauty, so in 1918 they renamed it Zion—a name that perseveres to this day.

On this, the 100-year anniversary of the successful summit attempt of Denali, let us reflect on how we have trampled over the true names of places, and move towards restoring those names.

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