Do I Now Work at Denali Creekside Cabins?
DENALI, ALASKA- So, President Obama just visited Alaska, and officially renamed Mt. McKinley Denali. Big deal for the rest of the country? Sure. Did anyone in Denali Borough bat an eye? No, not really. In practice, the mountain has always been called Denali in these parts, and an edict from the lower 48 dictating that this is now the official policy of the United States Government is pretty meaningless. Congressmen from Ohio have long lobbied to keep the official name as Mt. McKinley, in honor of their beloved president William McKinley, who coincidentally never set foot on Alaskan soil.
Locals and visitors alike refer to it as Denali, and after getting used to this you really do find yourself somewhat surprised when someone comes in and calls it Mt. McKinley. That might be the name on paper, but it would be like consistently and adamantly referring to Yogi Berra as “Lawrence.” Technically right, but in practice wrong. Denali is the native Athabascan word for the mountain, meaning “the Great One” or “the High One”. It’s easy to see how it got this moniker; when the weather is good and the mountain is out it commands attention from hundreds of miles away.
Alaskans have their own way of doing things, and always have. While they are certainly part of America in the sense that they use the dollar and have a star on the flag, there is very little about rural Alaskan life that resembles life in the lower 48, and the renaming of the mountain was received with a shrug and a casual discussion as to whether businesses named after McKinley (such as McKinley Creekside Cabins & Café) would re-brand. Consensus is that they will not.
In many ways Alaskans see themselves as an entity completely separate from the rest of the country. Yes, they are American—they are probably the most red-blooded patriots in any state, adhering to the principles of rugged American individualism in almost every sense of life. The case in point is that not many take notice when most Americans call the mountain Mt. McKinley, while Alaskans refer to it as Denali. Now, though, thanks to Obama, the first sitting president to visit the state, the rest of the country will finally know the Great One as it was originally named.