Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times
President Obama announced on Sunday that Mount McKinley was being renamed Denali, using his executive power to restore an Alaska Native name with deep cultural significance to the tallest mountain in North America.
The move came on the eve of Mr. Obama’s trip to Alaska, where he will spend three days promoting aggressive action to combat climate change, and is part of a series of steps he will make there meant to address the concerns of Alaska Native tribes.
It is the latest bid by the president to fulfill his 2008 campaign promise to improve relations between the federal government and the nation’s Native American tribes, an important political constituency that has a long history of grievances against the government.
Denali’s name has long been seen as one such slight, regarded as an example of cultural imperialism in which a Native American name with historical roots was replaced by an American one having little to do with the place.
The central Alaska mountain has officially been called Mount McKinley for almost a century. In announcing that Sally Jewell, the secretary of the interior, had used her power to rename it, Mr. Obama was paying tribute to the state’s Native population, which has referred to the site for generations as Denali, meaning “the high one” or “the great one.”
The peak, at more than 20,000 feet, plays a central role in the creation story of the Koyukon Athabascans, a group that has lived in Alaska for thousands of years.
Mr. Obama, freed from the political constraints of an impending election in the latter half of his second term, was also moving to put to rest a yearslong fight over the name of the mountain that has pit Alaska against electorally powerful Ohio, the birthplace of President William McKinley, for whom it was christened in 1896.
The government formally recognized the name in 1917, and efforts to reverse the move began in Alaska in 1975. In an awkward compromise struck in 1980, the national park surrounding it was named Denali National Park and Preserve, but the mountain continued to be called Mount McKinley.
Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, introduced legislation in January to rename the peak, but Ohio lawmakers sought to block the move. In June, an Interior Department official said in testimony before Congress that the administration had “no objection” to Ms. Murkowski’s proposed change.
In a video released on Sunday, Ms. Murkowski cheered Mr. Obama’s decision.
“For generations, Alaskans have known this majestic mountain as ‘the great one,’” she said in the video, appearing in front of the snow-topped mountain, its peak reaching above the clouds. “I’d like to thank the president for working with us to achieve this significant change to show honor, respect and gratitude to the Athabascan people of Alaska.”
The mountain came to be known as Mount McKinley after a gold prospector who had just emerged from exploring the Alaska Range heard that Mr. McKinley had won the Republican presidential nomination, and declared that the tallest peak should be named in his honor as a show of support.
Mr. McKinley was assassinated in 1901, six months into his second term, and never visited Alaska. Mr. Obama’s trip there starting on Monday will be his first major visit to the state, and he will become the first sitting American president to visit the Alaskan Arctic.
The White House also announced on Sunday that Mr. Obama was expanding government support for programs to allow Alaska Natives to be more involved in developing their own natural resources, including an initiative to include them in the management of Chinook salmon fisheries, a youth exchange council focusing on promoting “an Arctic way of life,” and a program allowing them to serve as advisers to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
Mr. Obama has stepped up his engagement with Native Americans since June last year, when he visited Cannon Ball, N.D., in the ancestral lands of Chief Sitting Bull and took part in a powwow to honor American Indians who have served in America’s foreign wars. That was the first visit by a sitting president in 15 years to land under tribal jurisdiction.
“There’s no denying that for some Americans, the deck’s been stacked against them, sometimes for generations, and that’s been true of many Native Americans,” Mr. Obama said at the time. “But if we’re working together, we can make things better.”