Denali, Ongtupqa and other Native American names for landmarks President Barack Obama on Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015 said he's changing the name of the tallest mountain in North America from Mount McKinley to Denali. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)
Denali, Ongtupqa and other Native American names for landmarks
Lexile

Since 1917, the tallest mountain in North America has been known as "Mount McKinley" on official maps and registers. But on August 28, the name changed.  The Department of the Interior declared that the 20,237-foot peak would once again be officially known as Denali. It is the name it held for thousands of years.
 
"This name change recognizes the sacred status of Denali to many Alaska Natives," Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement. "The name Denali has been official for use by the State of Alaska since 1975. But even more importantly, the mountain has been known as Denali for generations."
 
Meaning "the high one," Denali plays a central role in the creation myth of the Koyukon Athabascas. They are Native Alaskans that have lived in the region for centuries, Julie Hirschfeld Davis writes for The New York Times. The mountain became known as Mount McKinley in 1896. A gold prospector emerged from the wilderness to learn that William McKinley, a defender of the gold standard, had just been nominated as a presidential candidate. Turns out, McKinley was assassinated just six months into his first term. He never set foot in Alaska. But the name stuck.
 
Denali is one of the highest profile cases of official mapmakers disregarding the names given to natural landmarks by Native Americans. But it is far from the only one. Here are a few of the United States' natural wonders that had names for centuries before Europeans set foot in the Americas:
 
The Grand Canyon
 
It is the second-most visited national park in the country. And it's one of the United States' most iconic natural landmarks. Native American groups have continuously inhabited the Grand Canyon for almost 12,000 years, according to the National Parks Service. The canyon was called "Ongtupqa" in the Hopi language. It was considered a holy site and a passageway to the afterlife.
 
Mount Rushmore
 
The cliffside that bears the likenesses of George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln changed several times during the 19th century. The Black Hills of South Dakota, where the presidential carvings loom, was originally Sioux holy land, with the mountain itself known as "The Six Grandfathers," Nick Kirkpatrick writes for The Washington Post. While the land was promised to the Sioux by an 1868 treaty, the federal government took it back in 1877. The mountain was officially named "Mount Rushmore" in 1930 after a New York lawyer who liked to hunt in the area.

The Everglades
 
Once covering over 11,000 square miles of Florida's marshland, the Everglades were home for several Native American groups, including the Calusa, Seminole and Miccosukee tribes for more than 3,000 years. The area originally was called Pa-hay-Okee, meaning "grassy river" in the Seminole language. The marshes were dubbed "the Everglades" by the first Englishmen to visit the region. That is according to the National Parks Service.
 
Mount Washington
 
It is the tallest mountain in the northeast; New Hampshire's Mount Washington was once called Agiocochook, or "Home of the Great Spirit," by the Abenaki people. The mountain was first referred to as Mount Washington in 1784.  That was in honor of the George Washington's military service. But, it was officially named by the group of mountaineers who designated New Hampshire's Presidential Range in 1820. This is according to the Appalachian Mountain Club.

Filed Under:  
Assigned 81 times
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why is changing the mountain's name back to Denali important to the people of Alaska?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (76)
  • ians-mcc
    9/14/2015 - 09:28 a.m.

    It is important to the native people of Alaska because of the meaning behind the name. Another reason is because it simply had been called Denali for so long that it didn't really make a lot of sense not to change it back to the name the ancestors had used for so long.

  • tylers21-mcc
    9/14/2015 - 09:30 a.m.

    I couldn't believe that the United States renamed Mount Rushmore within the course of the 19th century. What made the United States think they should change it so much and how did they come up with Mount Rushmore?

  • teddyp-mcc
    9/14/2015 - 09:31 a.m.

    I think it is cool how many tribes/people before us have come through our national landmarks and have made contact with them. That provides even more history about them. It is said that President McKinley did not get to visit his mountain because he was assassinated. But, it is cool how he can look down on it from Heaven and even get a better view.

  • heidia-mcc
    9/14/2015 - 09:34 a.m.

    Changing the name back to Denali is important to the people of Alaska because it can remind them of the ones who first walked on the land, breathed the same air, swam in the same river and that can be very meaningful to some people. Another reason is that the word "Denali" is actually from Alaskan origin and "McKinly" is named after a guy who never stepped foot in Alaska.

  • fitzk-mcc
    9/14/2015 - 09:36 a.m.

    The people of Alaska have been calling it Denali for so long that it's a part of their history, and it must have been offensive for the Native Americans who were there first and named it Denali before the Spanish even arrived. This change recognizes both Native American and Alaskan culture.

  • taylorn-mcc
    9/14/2015 - 09:48 a.m.

    I believe that changing the mountain's name back to Denali is important to the people of Alaska because it is a symbol of their ancestors who walked on this land before them. "Denali" is also a word from their own language so it is probably very meaningful to the people of Alaska.

  • miap-mcc
    9/14/2015 - 09:48 a.m.

    Changing the name back to "Denali" is important to the people of Alaska because its name is related to the Alaskan Natives and now that the president who was assassinated is gone I think that it's okay to change the name back to what it was originally.

  • gracem-mcc
    9/14/2015 - 09:51 a.m.

    I think changing the name changing the name back to Denali is important to the people of Alaska because its been called Denali for thousands of years and they shouldn't have ever changed it.

  • lukes14-mcc
    9/14/2015 - 11:07 a.m.

    Changing the mountain's name back to Denali is important to the Natives of Alaska because the word ,Denali, has a special meaning to them. It is also important because it represents their ancestors who named that mountain many years ago and it is part of their tribe's history.

  • christinaz-mcc
    9/14/2015 - 11:07 a.m.

    It is important that they changed the name back to Denali because it has been known as Denali for generations and it is apart of their history.

Take the Quiz Leave a comment
ADVERTISEMENT