April 3, 2008

Voice your opinion on renaming Squaw Peak to ‘Piestewa Peak’


AUTHOR: Connie Cone Sexton

Will feds pick ‘Piestewa Peak’?
Board to vote on idea as 5-year wait ends. It’s not too late to voice your opinion, but time is running out.

Five years after the issue set off a political storm in Arizona, a federal
panel will consider renaming Squaw Peak after fallen soldier Lori Piestewa.

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names is expected to vote April 10, 2008 on whether
to change the name of the summit, one of the Valley’s highest, on maps and
other federal publications. The board requires a five-year waiting period
to consider such posthumous requests, in part to allow those who argue
passionately for or against a name to cool down.

Renaming Squaw Peak after soldier Lori Piestewa

In this case, the vote is once again refueling the debate over renaming
Squaw Peak after Piestewa, the first American Indian woman to die in combat
while serving in the U.S. military. Some argue the name should stay the
same or be named in honor of all veterans.

Supporters say Piestewa is more than deserving. The Hispanic-Hopi mother of
two from Tuba City died March 23, 2003, during an ambush while serving in
Iraq. She was 23.

Five years ago, Gov. Janet Napolitano and others successfully convinced a
state panel to waive its own five-year waiting period to adopt the name
Piestewa Peak.

The same request went to the national board in 2003, but the members
weren’t about to violate the five-year rule, said Jennifer Runyon, chief
researcher for the panel.

“We all take this seriously. Renaming a peak is pretty much a permanent
honor, and the idea is to let the emotions die down,” she said. “But the
five-year clock started ticking the day she died.”

Piestewa isn’t the only name the national board will consider April 10.

Prescott resident Al Bates, a self-described historian, is asking the
national board that the peak be named for Jack Swilling, considered by some
the father of irrigation in Phoenix. Swilling died in 1878.

The Arizona State Board on Geographic and Historic Names rejected that same
request in November.

“I have nothing against Piestewa,” Bates said, arguing that Swilling has a
closer tie to the Valley.

Most of the communication the national board is receiving regarding Squaw
Peak is over the Piestewa name, Runyon said.

“It’s about 50-50 for those for and against,” she said.

There was a flurry of communication five years ago when the name request
was first proposed, but it’s been quiet until the past few days.

Lou Yost, executive secretary of the national board whose members represent
various government departments including Agriculture, Commerce and Homeland
Security, said they review about 350 requests a year.

“About four or five are high-profile cases, and this is one of them,” he
said of the Piestewa Peak case.

Larry Wayt, who hikes Piestewa Peak four days a week and leads a “Squaw
Peak” hiking group, doesn’t want the federal government to follow the
state’s adoption of the name.

“It needs to remain Squaw Peak,” he said. “It’s been Squaw Peak forever.”

Wayt runs a Web site for hikers and is asking them to send letters opposing
the name change.

You can voice your own opinion at

“If they were going to change the name, it should be named Arizona Veterans
Peak, not for just one individual,” said Wayt, who said he served 22 years
in the Coast Guard.

Ernest Martinez, who helps lead the Piestewa Memorial Committee, said the
controversy that erupted five years ago was painful, not only to the
Piestewas but to the state.

Indian tribes have been fighting the name Squaw Peak for a long time

“The tribes have been fighting the name Squaw Peak for the longest time
because the word ‘squaw’ had such negative connotations. It took the death
of Lori to succeed for what the tribes have fought for vigorously.”

If the national board approves Piestewa Peak, it will bring a sense of
peace to Arizona, Martinez said. “It will close a chapter that has been on
the minds of people, a controversy that can be over.”

John Lewis, executive director of the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona that
represents 20 tribes, said his group has passed a resolution and sent it to
the national group supporting the new name.

“We want it to maintain the name Piestewa,” he said. “It’s a final step
that needs to be taken.”

Piestewa Peak is the official name recognized by the State of Arizona

If the national board chooses to keep the name Squaw Peak, it won’t affect
Arizona, said Julie Hoff, a reference and map librarian who provides
research help for the state board on geographic names.

“Once it’s approved by the state, it’s the official name used in the
state,” she said. The name was officially accepted by the State of Arizona in 2003.

The name Piestewa Peak will stand for more than one warrior

Piestewa’s mother, Priscilla, waits to see what will happen.

“I just want people to realize it’s not just a place for Lori; it’s for all
those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice,” she said. “Just hearing from
other parents who lost someone in the war, they can feel the presence of
their kids.”

Priscilla Piestewa said she can’t worry that the upcoming vote could tear
open old wounds and create new controversy.

“If it does, it does,” she said. “I keep saying things happen for a reason.
There are obstacles and blessings and they come from God, and we go on as
best we can.”

Reach the reporter at or 602 444-8894.

Editor’s Note:

Ms. Piestewa was not just the first native american woman killed in combat, she was the first woman of any race from the US killed in combat. This Easter Sunday which just passed marked the death of the 4,000th US soldier to die in the Iraq War.

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