President Barack Obama announced Monday that Mount McKinley, North America’s highest peak, will no longer bear the name of William McKinley, the 25th President of the United States and a Niles native. Instead, the mountain will be called by the name it was given by native Alaskan peoples: Denali.
No, seriously, thanks. It’s really for the best. President McKinley never stepped foot in Alaska, and the mountain only bore his name because a gold prospector exploring the region in 1896 named it after his preferred presidential candidate, McKinley. After McKinley won the election, the name was made official by the United States government. It’s sort of like if someone today decided that, after exploring Mahoning County, they decided to name it Sandersland after presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders. Some people might be down for that, but a lot of residents probably wouldn’t take too kindly to the renaming.
For the record, mahoning is a Native American word meaning “salt lick,” so maybe Sandersland isn’t so bad.
Either way, the renaming makes sense. Obviously 1896 wasn’t a time when Americans gave much thought to indigenous peoples’ opinions on the naming of landmarks. The renaming should have happened some time ago, but at least it happened.
Having said that, there are — and probably will be — dissenting voices, likely coming from the local populace upset that such an important Ohioan is having his name removed from a national landmark. Dissenting opinion is to be expected, but a few of those voices — that of the Ohio congressional delegation for example — have more weight than angry Internet commenters.
Let’s be clear; it is unlikely most of these delegates actually care about the renaming. Most of them probably agree with the move. They’re probably dissenting for the sake of older or more conservative constituents who care about this sort of thing and see the renaming as the dishonoring of a notable Ohioan rather than the honoring of an indigenous group who were adopted into our country many years ago.
Even Congressman Tim Ryan — normally a supporter of progressive measures and even an author of a book on the power of mindfulness — introduced a bill to Congress in 2013 meant to keep McKinley as the mountain’s official name. To be fair, he did this on the request of a retiring congressman who spent a good deal of time trying to defend McKinley’s name on the mountain.
It’s understandable that our politicians want to protect Ohio history, and it is also understandable they want to represent the desires of their constituents. That’s a major part of their job, after all. However, there is also some responsibility — especially for politicians who promote progressive ideals — to set an example for their constituents by doing the right thing, even if it’s unpopular.
Abraham Lincoln did that once, and it got kind of messy, but he’s generally well regarded for doing so.
The name change is good. McKinley has nothing to do with that mountain, and the renaming is a small gesture the United States government has made to help recognize the culture of a little known indigenous group that all of a sudden found itself part of a much larger country. Let’s celebrate the change as a positive for them and not a negative for McKinley.
Besides, if any Ohio history fight needs to happen, it should be forcing those thieving North Carolinians to take “First in Flight” off their license plates. Yeah, maybe the Wright Brothers flew in your state, but the magic happened here. Watch yourself NC.
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