Alaska Native culture

Denali Name Restored

Denali. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Denali. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

I was elated when President Obama announced Mount McKinley will be restored to its original Koyukon Athabascan name of Denali. It’s about time. It was an emotional day for many indigenous Alaskans. It felt like Alaska Natives were given back something taken away from us. People may think colonization is just something that you read about in text books. It is a very real thing when you see names like Mount McKinley take over our place names. People from all over the world travel to Alaska to see the nation’s highest peak. Now, they will see a place where the very President himself thought it was important enough to recognize and honor Athabascan people.

Founding member of Fairbanks Native Association Poldine Carlo sings a song about Denali after meeting President. Photo courtesy of Obama Diary
Founding member of Fairbanks Native Association Poldine Carlo sings a song about Denali after meeting President. Photo courtesy of Obama Diary

It was awesome to see Poldine Carlo, who is Koyukon Athabascan, sing the Denali song up on his arrival in Anchorage, Alaska. Check out the story about Poldine Carlo:  94-year-old Alaska Native elder greets Obama with Denali song. I can just imagine the excitement she felt and her tears brought tears to my eyes. Sylvia Lange was with her at the time and shared a few photos.


Poldine Carlo with Air Force One. Photo by Sylvia Lange
Poldine Carlo with Air Force One. Photo by Sylvia Lange

Sylvia says, “My wonderful companion, Poldine. While waiting for the President to arrive, she conquered all hearts by singing the Denali song in Athabascan.” To say that Poldine is happy is an understatement.

Thank you to for the shout out to the Athabascan Woman Blog. Read Paula Young Lee’s story at:  The truth about right-wing Denali outrage: Destroying the tenacious colonialist “right” to re-name is long overdue.

Here are some comments on the Athabascan Woman Blog from earlier this year on their thoughts about changing the name.

I asked my Facebook friends what they thought about the name being restored. Here is what they  had to say:

“The year I was born the state of Alaska changed Mt. McKinley to Denali, the native Koyukon Athabascan word for “The Great One” or “The High One,” and as a Han Gwich’in Athabascan I am very elated that President Obama sees the significance and respect that traditional name carries with Athabascans and the residents of Alaska. Mahsi cho President Obama!” – Shyanne Beatty, Hän Gwich’in Athabascan

View of Denali by Angela Gonzalez
View of Denali by Angela Gonzalez

“Yay!” – Rhonda Pitka, Athabascan

“Always been Denali to me!” – Larry Kairaiuak, Yup’ik

“Yes, I always called it Denali too, never should have been renamed in the first place.” – Violet Huntington, Athabascan

“My Deenaalee [daughter] just announced the wonderfully exciting news that Obama is giving our amazing and breath-taking tallest peak its rightful name officially – Denali! That is the best news. Welcome to AK President Obama and Xusrigidisdhin’- a grateful thank you!!! For Deenaalee she is seeing her namesake finally honored, as we all are!” – Malinda Chase, Athabascan

“It was always meant to be Denali.” – Kylee Beatus, Koyukon Athabascan

“Incredible viewed from the sky; spectacular from the ground; the Creator’s paintbrush on the landscape to give us a constant reminder of his power and grace.” – Beckie Gehrke Murdock

“I saw the announcement on my phone while at the grocery store and almost cried. I can’t believe this is finally happening. Wonderful!!!” – Clare Stockert Ross

“I’m so glad to see this. So much silliness about it though – makes me laugh. Denali is such a beautiful word in and of itself – like a gasp of wonder.” – Amy Modig

“It’s always been Denali to me. I told my husband the news and he said it’s always been Denali and it’s being restored to its original name, should never have been Mt. McKinley! It was a proud day for me. Went to work and several of my coworkers mentioned the renaming of Denali but they were able to say that it was an Athabascan word…because they knew that I AM ATHABASCAN! ” – Brenda Mahan, Athabascan

Denali South View. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Denali South View. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

“I think it is a good idea. A congressman from Ohio opposed it and then he said what can we do to remember this president. Besides naming Denali after him.” – Al Yatlin, Jr., Koyukon Athabascan


“Having the name of the mountain restored to its traditional Koyukon Athabascan name “Denali” also in a way restores the honor and sacredness of the land and the people.” – Sonia Vent, Koyukon Athabascan

Thank you to my friends for sharing. Thank you to President Obama and Secretary Jewel for restoring Denali’s original name!




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