Controversy over McKinley/Denali is similar to Mount Rainier’s own story

Aug 31, 2015, 8:53 AM | Updated: 11:54 am
The name of Alaska’s Mount McKinley is returning to its original title, Denali. The battle fo...
The name of Alaska's Mount McKinley is returning to its original title, Denali. The battle for the name is strikingly similar to that of Mount Rainier. (AP)

There’s no longer a Mount McKinley.

North America’s tallest mountain is still there in Alaska, but it has a new name. And that name is its old name: Denali.

The White House made the announcement ahead of President Obama’s trip to Alaska on Monday.

Related: Kerry, Obama to raise global warming issues in Alaska

With this move, the president wades into a sensitive and decades-old conflict between residents of Alaska and Ohio. Alaskans have called the mountain “Denali” for years, but the federal government recognizes its name as McKinley – after William McKinley, the 25th president who was born in Ohio and assassinated early in his second term.

The mountain was first recognized as McKinley in 1896, when a prospector was exploring mountains in central Alaska, according to the White House. Upon hearing the news that McKinley, a Republican, had received his party’s nomination to be president, the prospector named it in his honor. The title was ultimately recognized by the federal government.

Monday’s change returns the mountain’s name to its original native Alaskan title of Denali, which means “The High One.”

Related: The battle to name Mount Rainier

The controversy over Denali is strikingly similar to that of Washington’s own dispute in naming Mount Rainier. Despite its firmly-held title today &#8212 which inspired town names in Washington and Oregon, as well as a beer &#8212 it hasn’t always been called “Rainier.”

“In 1792, Captain Vancouver names the mountain after his friend, Peter Rainier … so that’s the name that is used for a while. But in the 1850s, a book is published by a guy who calls it Mount Tacoma,” Historian Feliks Banel told KIRO Radio’s Seattle’s Morning News.

Similar to how Denali is a native word with a literal meaning &#8212 the high one &#8212, the native word “tacoma” means “mountain.” Banel explains that “tacoma” was commonly used to refer to the mountain that stuck out of the Cascade range; it was the mountain people saw for miles around.

“Then in the 1880s, those evil people with the Northern Pacific [Railroad] chose Tacoma as its terminus [instead of Seattle] … they started calling it Mount Tacoma to promote Tacoma because railroads made money off of real estate,” Banel said.

Tacoma kept that fight up for decades. Additional competition came in 1915, with a movement to call it Mount Lincoln, as part of an effort to name all Cascade mountains after U.S. presidents. Civil War veterans backed that idea.

In 1939, the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce gave up the battle and named the mountain “Rainier.”

“When Tacoma gave up, it was front page news,” Banel said.

MyNorthwest’s Richard Oxley contributed to this report.

Local News

Madrona closure...
MyNorthwest Staff

Madrona school temporarily shifts to remote learning over COVID outbreak

Madrona K-8 will be temporarily switching to remote learning, over a COVID outbreak that has nearly a quarter of the school's students quarantined. 
8 hours ago
Rene Baeza (left) and 3-month-old Alizario. (Yakima PD)...
MyNorthwest Staff

Amber Alert canceled for 3-month-old baby, ‘safely’ located by authorities

An Amber Alert has been canceled for a 3-month-old baby out of Yakima.
8 hours ago
plastic bags...
Nicole Jennings

Why you may still see some plastic bags after statewide ban

If you are still handed plastic bags at your local supermarket or the gift shop downtown, it doesn't necessarily mean the store owners are flouting the law.
1 day ago
Chris Sullivan

WSDOT has largest segment of state employees to leave over vaccine mandate

Of 1,887 state employees that lost their jobs over the vaccine mandate, the largest group was from the Washington State Department of Transportation.
1 day ago
Stephanie Klein

State reports 92% compliance after vaccine mandate deadline

At least 92% of state workers have shown proof they're vaccinated against COVID-19 or were approved for exemption, according to the state.
1 day ago
pierce county...
MyNorthwest Staff

Pierce County Sheriff’s Dept, BLM react to charges against sheriff

The state Attorney General’s office has filed misdemeanor charges against Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer. The department and Black Lives Matter respond.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles


How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for both lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.

Small, Minority-Owned Businesses in King County and Pierce County Can Now Apply For $10,000 Relief Grants Through Comcast RISE

Businesses in King County and Pierce County can apply beginning on October 1, 2021, at for a chance to receive a $10,000 relief grant.
Courtesy of JWatch Photography....
Experience Anacortes

Summer Fun Activities in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
Controversy over McKinley/Denali is similar to Mount Rainier’s own story