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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

FACT SHEET: President Obama to Announce New Steps to Enhance Administration Collaboration with Alaska Natives, the State of Alaska, and Local Communities

President Will Announce Renaming of Mt. McKinley to Denali

Tomorrow in Anchorage, President Obama will meet with leaders from the Alaska Native community along with Governor Bill Walker, Lt. Governor Byron Mallott, and Senator Lisa Murkowski to discuss ways to strengthen cooperation between the Federal Government and Alaska Native tribes, including by furthering progress in developing cooperative management strategies for fish and wildlife. The President will also announce that the Federal Government has officially restored the Koyukon Athabascan name of Denali to the tallest mountain in North America, previously known as Mt. McKinley. This designation recognizes the sacred status of Denali to generations of Alaska Natives.

Climate change threatens the way of life of Alaska Natives across the state, from the North Slope to Bristol Bay. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, and is experiencing the consequences. Higher average temperatures are diminishing the range of winter sea ice, allowing heavy storm surges that sea ice once kept at bay to batter the Alaskan coastline, and interrupting the winter hunting season for Alaska Natives. The northernmost reaches of the state are losing slightly more than a football field’s worth of land a day to coastal erosion and sea level rise. Rising ocean temperatures and increasing acidity are affecting marine life, including the fish, shellfish, and marine mammals on which generations of Alaska Natives have depended. And due in part to climate change, earlier this summer, hundreds of wildfires scorched more than 5 million acres of land–an area approximately the size of Massachusetts, damaging homes and threatening communities. 2014 was the hottest year globally on record and 2015 so far has been breaking records as well.

Throughout his time in office, President Obama has sought greater engagement and collaboration with Native American tribes. Each year, the President has hosted a White House Tribal Nations Conference, bringing together tribal leaders from across the country. In 2014, the President made his first visit to Indian Country when he traveled to Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. He took his second trip to Indian Country in July when he visited the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. The President’s recently-launched Generation Indigenous initiative (Gen-I) seeks to improve the lives of Native youth through new investments and increased engagement. Today’s announcements builds on that record of accomplishment by addressing issues of concern for Alaska Native tribes.

Renaming the tallest mountain in North America to reflect the heritage of Alaska Natives. In 1896, a prospector emerged from exploring the mountains of central Alaska and received news that William McKinley had been nominated as a candidate for President of the United States. In a show of support, the prospector declared the tallest peak of the Alaska Range as “Mt. McKinley”—and the name stuck.

McKinley became our 25th President, and was tragically assassinated just six months into his second term. But he never set foot in Alaska—and for centuries, the mountain that rises some 20,000 feet above sea level, the tallest on the North American continent, had been known by another name—Denali.  Generally believed to be central to the Athabascan creation story, Denali is a site of significant cultural importance to many Alaska Natives.  The name “Denali” has been used for many years and is widely used across the state today.

Today, finalizing a process initiated by the State of Alaska in 1975, President Obama is announcing that the Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell used her authority to rename the mountain as “Denali.”

Announcing next steps on fish and wildlife cooperative management. In October 2014, the Department of the Interior (DOI) announced plans to develop a demonstration project to promote tribal cooperative management of fisheries within the Kuskokwim River drainage and provide subsistence participants direct input into the decision-making process for in-season fisheries management of Chinook salmon stocks, an essential resource for the tribal economic, nutritional, cultural and spiritual way of life and which have experienced a steep decline over more than a decade.

Today, the Obama Administration is building on that program by announcing DOI will provide $375,000 in funding for the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and the Yukon River Inter-tribal Fish Commission. These funds will help build capacity in the Commissions.  Both Commissions have a critical need for administrative support, biologists, social scientists, and legal consultants to ensure that they have the capacity to fully engage in the historic tribal salmon management opportunities available and to ensure that tribal traditional knowledge is meaningfully employed in the conservation and re-building of Chinook salmon stocks.

Investing in neighborhood revitalization in Anchorage. The Administration welcomes ArtPlace America’s announcement of its $3 million investment in the Cook Inlet Housing Authority (CIHA), a tribal housing authority in Anchorage, AK, that works in close partnership with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to create empowered communities of opportunity. ArtPlace is a partnership among 15 foundations, including Rasmuson, Bloomberg, Ford, Knight, Kresge and Rockefeller, eight federal agencies, and six banks that works to position art and culture as a core sector of community planning and development. The ArtPlace grant will enable CIHA to incorporate artists and designers into neighborhood revitalization planning and development in Anchorage, which is part of $18 million in investments in place-based organizations across the country.

Launching a youth engagement program to promote an Arctic way of life. The Administration is announcing that under the leadership of DOI, it will launch a youth exchange program meant to bring together Alaskan youth from both urban and rural areas, including Alaska Natives, to share their perspectives, learn together, and prepare to become young stewards of the Arctic way of life. These youth will participate in a program that includes rural field exploration to understand the challenges of a changing Arctic and the potential for local solutions against the impacts of climate change, elder engagement to gather traditional knowledge, and participation in science seminars with scientists and decision-makers. The youth will participate in a leadership academy that will allow them to present their learning and insights to influential Arctic leaders, including Arctic Council representatives and diplomats. The youth will also engage internationally more broadly through virtual exchanges and pro-active social media engagement. This will allow Alaskan youth to share their experiences in the American Arctic while simultaneously learning about other parts of the Arctic and identifying areas of potential international collaboration.

Bridging the gap between native communities, conservation science, and natural resource management. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP) at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and Rasmuson Foundation are announcing $1,035,200 in collaborative funding to support advisor positions at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, also known as "Refuge Information Technicians." The collaboration also funds internships for young Alaska residents attending ANSEP with the hope of opening the door for rural village residents to obtain, and for students to aspire to, professional careers in fish and wildlife management in Alaska and nationally. The net result of this system change would be a win-win for the federal government and for local communities. While this particular project is relatively modest in scale, it could prove to be a catalyst for the next generation of natural resource managers in Alaska. The initiative supports the Administration's Generation Indigenous initiative, which focuses on improving the lives of Native youth through new investments and increased engagement.