Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Names matter

Oddly, I was raised to feel a tinge of affection toward President William McKinley. His assassination, which took place at a World's Fair a few blocks from where I grew up in Buffalo, sometimes seemed to Buffalonians like the last time the nation attended to our home for a reason aside from blizzards. Not that, on mature reflection, I find much to admire about the man, an aggressive imperialist who launched a war to pick off Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines from the decayed Spanish colonial empire. My regard is not enhanced by the fact that Karl Rove has written a book about our 25th president.

Republicans are flipping out because the Prez changed the official name of the country's highest mountain from McKinley to its native name, Denali. The freak out seems just another silly manifestation of Obama-hate. Alaska has been asking for the change for over 40 years. And for most people who have any awareness of the peak -- climbers, adventure travelers, National Park visitors -- it has long been "Denali." But if Obama changed, it, it must be evidence of his dictatorial aspirations.

Professor Ben Railton has described the long history of erasure and struggle over preserving indigenous Native names for geographical features. From his essay, I've learned that the state of South Dakota is considering renaming its high point, "Harney Peak" -- which we hiked last summer -- for 19th century native wise man Black Elk. The mountain overlooks Oglala Lakota territory, so that seems appropriate.

Railton concludes about such naming controversies:

The Native names, like the peoples who bestowed them, have never vanished and remain with us today—it’s long past time we remembered and honored them.


Rain Trueax said...

Too bad Oregon can't rename its mountains. Native names are so much prettier than what the early settlers came up with. Wyeast for Mt. Hood :)

Ben Railton said...

Thanks so much for sharing the piece and adding your great thoughts!


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