Needless to say, several Ohio lawmakers are really bent out of shape by the name change. House Speaker John Boehner said he was “deeply disappointed” by the decision, and Republican U.S. Representative Bob Gibbs said, “This political stunt is insulting to all Ohioans, and I will be working with the House Committee on Natural Resources to determine what can be done to prevent this action.”
Many critics mocked the adulation that President Obama received while running for president in 2008, calling him the “messiah” and jokingly predicted that the man would move mountains. Instead, the past seven years have proven that Obama is indeed merely a mortal, and mortals don’t move mountains, they rename them. As a tribute to Alaska’s indigenous cultures, the president announced on Sunday that the tallest peak in the U.S., formerly known as Mount McKinley, will now be called Denali, the original name of the mountain in the native Athabascan language. President Obama will fly to Anchorage on Monday to begin a three-day tour of Alaska, using the state to push the need for a renewed national debate on climate change. The events begin Monday afternoon with the president fielding questions from Native Americans before speaking at the State-Department sponsored Arctic Summit.
Noting the melting of the polar ice-caps and glaciers that have forced the relocation of several villages, the president is using the potential destruction of Alaska’s breathtaking scenery to highlight the need to rethink America’s energy policy. As part of the trip, Obama will become the first sitting U.S. president to venture north of Alaska’s Arctic Circle, paying a visit to the Native Alaskans who have borne the brunt of the melting environment. In his Saturday radio address, President Obama highlighted both the forthcoming trip and its relation to climate change saying, “This is all real. This is happening to our fellow Americans right now.”
Although the area surrounding the peak has been called Denali National Park since 1980, the mountain itself had been named in honor of President William McKinley for over 100 years. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced on Sunday that the name change will honor the native Koyukon Athabascans, who have lived there for thousands of years, with Denali meaning “the high one” in the native language. The mountain’s name has remained a sore spot for Alaska’s indigenous cultures, cited as an example of American imperialistic vision of the great frontier. As a candidate in 2008, Obama stressed the importance of mending grievances between Native Americans and the federal government, whose historical policies towards the natives has been viewed as a form of genocide to many.
Needless to say, several Ohio lawmakers are really bent out of shape by the name change. House Speaker John Boehner said he was “deeply disappointed” by the decision, and Republican U.S. Representative Bob Gibbs said, “This political stunt is insulting to all Ohioans, and I will be working with the House Committee on Natural Resources to determine what can be done to prevent this action.” I hail from Canton, Ohio, which was the longtime home of the lawyer-turned governor and future President McKinley. His legacy is more ubiquitous in my hometown than the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Canton’s major claim to fame. This includes his monument that resembles a citadel in the middle of a robust urban park, and the high school whose stadium hosts the NFL’s annual Hall of Fame game. Yet, it took a minute for me to draw the connection even while researching the topic. The peak was given that name by a gold prospector in 1896, upon hearing that the Republican Ohio Governor won the presidency. McKinley, who was assassinated five months into his second term, never visited Alaska and has no actual connection to the mountain.
Still, there is valid criticism to be had regarding the president’s visit. Despite the gestures and speeches, environmental groups believe that the administration has not done enough to prevent the rapidly-altering arctic landscape. Most offensive to many is the administration’s green-lighted permit a few weeks ago, authorizing Royal Dutch Shell to expand oil drilling off of Alaska’s Northwest coast. Obama replied to the criticism by saying in Saturday radio address, “I share people’s concerns about offshore drilling. I remember the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico all too well.” The president noted, however, that the U.S. must remain reliant on traditional energy measure while alternatives are being developed, although remaining mindful of the risks.
Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski noted the importance of oil revenues to the state’s standard of living, funding innovation in medicine, communications, and infrastructure. Murkowski stressed the need to balance economic and environmental policy, saying ahead of the visit, “I want to highlight one aspect of Arctic policy that I hope will be at the forefront of the discussion: the people who live in the region, and their need for sustainable economic activity.” Still, Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated the administration’s theoretical focus on climate change while serving notice to those who doubt its existence. Kerry said upon his arrival Sunday, “I think the people who are slow to come to this table will be written up by historians as having been some of the folks most irresponsible in understanding and reacting to scientific analysis.”
CNN – Jim Acosta
New York Times – Julie Hirschfeld Davis
Yahoo News/AP – Josh Lederman