Ahead of a historic trip to the Arctic, President Barack Obama erased a former Republican president’s name from North America’s tallest peak in a move applauded in Alaska and derided more than 3,000 miles away in Ohio. More contentious matters concerning climate change and Arctic drilling awaited.
Obama departed Monday morning to Anchorage for the start of a three-day visit, bringing the American leader up close to shrinking glaciers, Arctic temperatures and a mix of messy energy politics. His tour of the nation’s largest state is closely choreographed to call attention to the ways Obama says climate change is already damaging Alaska’s stunning scenery.
Showing solidarity with Alaska Natives, Obama announced Sunday that his administration would rename Mount McKinley as Denali, its traditional Athabascan name. Alaska’s governor and congressional delegation praised the long-sought change.
But stripping the mountain of its name honoring former President William McKinley, a son of Ohio, drew loud condemnations from Ohio lawmakers. “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,” added Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, added, “I’m deeply disappointed in this decision.”
In renaming the 20,320-foot mountain, Obama was recognizing the moniker Alaskans have informally used for centuries. The name means “the high one” in Athabascan.
The peak, which is growing at about a millimeter a year, was named Mount McKinley in 1896 by a prospector exploring mountains in central Alaska, the White House said. Upon hearing the news that McKinley was the Republican presidential nominee, the prospector named it after him. The name was then formally recognized.
Obama’s excursion north of the Arctic Circle will make him the first sitting president to step foot in the Alaska Arctic, home to Alaska Natives. They’ve received less attention than others amid Obama’s recent efforts to improve conditions for Native Americans. Yet the primary focus on the trip is global warming.