Renaming Mount McKinley

Posted By: Simon Hamm

June 10, 2012


Whatever history's verdict on the presidency of WIlliam McKinley- good, bad or forgotten- the fact is that by any measure the man and the presidency have precisely zero relevance to the highest peak in North America, a mountain which has borne his name since its whimsical bestowal by William Dickey in 1896.

Meanwhile, and for thousands of years, Alaska Native peoples of the region have known it by a handful of variants on "Denali", all meaning "The Great One", or "The High One".

An excellent account of these names is found in the following excerpt from the New York Times online book review:

Recently, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski introduced Senate Bill 2272, which would replace the name Mount McKinley with the ancient Alaska Native name.  The effort is welcomed by many both within and from outside the Alaska Native community.  There is, however, a serious gaffe in the language of the bill which we hope is corrected before it proceeds any farther toward passage.

As written, the bill calls for North America's highest mountain to be known henceforth as Mount Denali.  According to the Dictionary of Alaska Place Names, Geological Survey Professional Paper 567, by Donald Orth, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 1967,


The Tanana Indian name was reported as “Denali”, and the Tanaina Indian

name is given as “Doleika” or Traleika.”  Each of these names is said to mean

 “the big one” or “the high one.”


The word, “Denali,” therefore, includes the noun, one, which refers to the mountain.

Naming it Mount Denali is essentially to name it "Mount The High Mountain".  Just as Denali National Park and Denali State Park do not use the word "Mount", the peak itself should properly receive the stand-alone name, Denali.  To call it Mount Denali pays tribute to the Alaska Native name, while failing to actually honor the meaning of that name.

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It is our pleasure to present Dispatches, a journal of the goings on at Camp Denali & North Face Lodge. Written by members of our staff, Dispatches is an opportunity to peek into the special sightings notebook, brush up on Denali National Park issues, read about our ongoing projects in sustainability, and maybe get a whiff of what’s cooking in the kitchens. Dispatches will carry on through the winter, when we hope to share stories of snowy ski adventures, deep cold, and the events of a small Alaskan community.