Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Denali


Most Americans will never see Alaska. Most will never see Denali.
Most Americans couldn't report a single fact about William McKinley beyond that he was assassinated. If that.

Most Americans don't live in Ohio. I lived in Ohio and William McKinley was rarely on my mind. (I did live near the Warren G. Harding memorial in Niles, Ohio, and Harding too was rarely on my mind.)

McKinley was just about the last of a long string of Republican Presidents who held office as a result of the Party of Lincoln selling out the freed slaves in 1876 and ending Reconstruction. They were aggressively pro-business.


This is about whiteness. President Obama took something that was symbolically white and gave it back to Native America. And "someday President in his mind" Donald J. Trump promises to give it back.

This is about the Doctrine Of Discovery -- that ancient principle from the dawn of the European conquest of the Americas. The Pope said that the European Christians had full power over the non-Christians they encountered in the New World. Naming mountains was the least of it.

We are asked to somehow accept a gold prospector's naming of Denali after a US political candidate as a legitimate naming exercise. By what authority? By the authority of being the first white person to suggest naming the mountain that already had a name. The authority of whiteness.

The Unitarian Universalist Association has repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery. It is possible for people who are descended from Europeans, as most UU's are, to learn to look at the world without relying exclusively on the lens of whiteness.

Denali is a beautiful mountain, named "the Great One" in the language of the human beings who have known it longest. It never needed any other name.  Our faith calls upon us to resist the power that claims the right to give it another name.

2 comments:

Bill Baar said...

A bit harsh on McKinley and the slaves. He was a decorated civil war vet. Volunteered as an enlisted soldier.

The Antietam memorial says,

Sergeant McKinley was a Commissary Sergeant with the 23rd Ohio of Colonel Hugh Ewing’s Brigade. During the battle, Sergeant McKinley bravely served the soldiers in his regiment. Another U.S. President from the same Civil War regiment, Rutherford B. Hayes said that, "Early in the afternoon, naturally enough, with the exertion required of the men, they were famished and thirsty, and to some extent broken in spirit. The commissary department of that brigade was under Sergeant McKinley’s administration and personal supervision. From his hands every man in the regiment was served with hot coffee and warm meats.... He passed under fire and delivered, with his own hands, these things, so essential for the men for whom he was laboring."

Small stuff perhaps, but keeping ones wits under fire no easy task even if the mission just to serve food.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks, Tom. I have seen Denali in all its beauty and WOWness. Even in the early 1970s when I was there, there were many who called it Denali and talked about its sacredness. Great writing. It made me smile and think.