Renaming of North America’s highest peak from Mt. McKinley to Denali was recognized Wednesday by federal and tribal officials at the Tanana Chief’s Conference annual meeting in Fairbanks. Three other lesser publicized name changes were also highlighted.
U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewel took action last summer to formally re-name Mt. McKinley to its traditional Athabascan name Denali. The executive action announced by President Obama during an Alaska visit followed decades of congressional wrangling over the issue. Secretary Jewel’s senior advisor for Alaska affairs Michael Johnson pointed to the significance the name change in an address to Tanana Chiefs Conference delegates.
“This is a symbol, but it’s an important one ‘cause it’s about respect,” said Johnson. “And that’s, I think, first and foremost why the secretary was happy to do it.”
Denali isn’t the only federally approved change to a traditional Alaska Native name. TCC President Victor Joseph noted 3 other recent interior region name changes made by Secretary Jewell.
“Black River, the traditional name was Draanjik, and that came through,” Joseph said. “And then when we’re looking at the Chandalar, it has two names that came and that’s T’eedriinjik and Ch’idriinjik, the east and west of the Chandalar river. And that means so much to us to have the original names come back to the areas that we have lived in forever.”
Joseph says Secretary Jewel made the river name changes at the request of Yukon Flats region residents. Celebration of the name changes was part of a potlatch that concluded the TCC annual convention.