on Geographic Names to honor first female American
Indian combat casualty
by Amanda Lee Myers
(AP) - The U.S. Board on Geographic Names voted
Thursday to officially change the name of a
prominent Phoenix mountain to Piestewa Peak to honor
the first American Indian woman to die in combat
while serving in the U.S. military.
The 11 board members who voted for the name change
felt that Army Spc. Lori Piestewa (py-ES'-tuh-wah)
symbolizes everyone who has died in the line of
duty, Lou Yost, the board's executive secretary,
said from Washington, D.C.
He said the two members who voted against the change
argued that Piestewa didn't have a direct
association with the mountain and is not of regional
or national prominence.
The craggy desert mountain used to be named Squaw
Peak, a controversial name that many American
Indians find offensive and have been trying to
change for years.
The Arizona State Board on Geographic and Historic
Names renamed the mountain soon after Piestewa was
killed in Iraq in 2003. But the federal board
requires a five-year wait before it considers
changing the name of geographic feature on maps and
other federal publications after the dead - in part
to allow those arguing passionately for or against a
name change to cool down.
Yost said those five years didn't do much to cool
down hundreds of Arizonans.
He said the board received an unprecedented 1,300
calls, e-mails and letters about the name change,
with about two-thirds in favor of Piestewa Peak.
"The board has a five-year waiting period so
everyone's emotions even out after someone's death,
but apparently this is still an emotional situation
out there," he said.
"This is what we call a high-profile case."
Piestewa, a 23-year-old Hispanic-Hopi mother of two
from Tuba City on the Navajo Reservation, died after
her convoy took a wrong turn and was ambushed near
Nasiriyah in March 2003. Some of the members of
507th Maintenance Company, including her best friend
Jessica Lynch, were taken prisoner; others died.
The story of Lynch's capture and dramatic nighttime
rescue made her an instant celebrity. Lynch attends
annual ceremonies at Piestewa Peak in honor of her
fallen friend and named her daughter after Piestewa.
The peak is a popular destination for local hikers
attracted to its convenient location in the middle
of the city and its challenging trails to the
2,600-foot summit. Others like to go hiking,
horseback riding or mountain biking on some of the
easier trails in the foothills.
The controversy over renaming the mountain led to a
nasty fight between Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano
and the Republican-led Legislature.
Napolitano argued that changing the name of the
landmark would be an appropriate tribute to Piestewa
while removing the word "squaw." Although some
linguists disagree, critics say "squaw" is derived
from an Indian word for female genitalia.
Lawmakers argued that Napolitano used Piestewa's
death to her political advantage and that her staff
used heavy-handed tactics to rename the peak.
Larry Wayt, the leader of a local hiking group who
www.squawpeakhiker.org Web site, said he was
disappointed in the federal board's decision to
rename the peak.
"A lot of words are considered offensive now that
didn't used to be considered offensive, and a lot of
the words that are considered offensive are still
used, and that really doesn't enter into it as far
as I'm concerned," he said.
Wayt, who served in the Coast Guard for 22 years
before retiring in 1977, said the board should have
left the name the same, or had it changed in honor
of all veterans.
Napolitano spokeswoman Shilo Mitchell said Piestewa
symbolizes all the men and women who have sacrificed
for Arizona, and that the governor was pleased with
the board's decision.
"This was certainly the hoped-for outcome, not just
for her, but for many Arizonans," Mitchell said.
"Lori Piestewa bravely served our country. She
sacrificed greatly, and so has her family, and by
honoring her, we honor all veterans."