Feds to decide whether Piestewa Peak name sticks

Phoenix, Arizona (AP) 4-08

It’s been five years since Squaw Peak in Phoenix was renamed in honor of Army soldier Lori Piestewa, the first American Indian woman to die in combat while serving in the U.S. military.

Now, a federal panel will decide whether to make it official.

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names is expected to vote April 10 on whether to change the name of the summit, one of the Phoenix area’s highest, on maps and other federal publications.

A five-year wait is required by the board before it considers such posthumous requests, in part to allow those who argue passionately for or against a name to cool down.

In this case, the vote was once again refueling debate over renaming Squaw Peak after Piestewa, a Hispanic-Hopi mother of two from Tuba City who died March 23, 2003, during an ambush while serving in Iraq.

Some believe the name should stay the same or that the peak should be named in honor of all veterans. Supporters said Piestewa, 23, is more than deserving.

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

The same request was sent 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.

Most of the communication the national board receives regarding Squaw Peak was over the Piestewa name, Runyon said. “It’s about 50-50 for those for and against,” she said.

Larry Wayt opposes keeping the name Piestewa Peak. He leads a mountain hiking group and 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 was asking them to send letters opposing the name change.

“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.

Meanwhile, Priscilla Piestewa 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 about the mountain named for her daughter.

“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.”