Renaming peak for slain soldier proves hard

Thursday, April 17, 2003

PHOENIX -- A proposal to rename an Arizona mountain after an American Indian killed in Iraq has led to a surprisingly nasty fight between the Democratic governor and Republican lawmakers.

Gov. Janet Napolitano says she wants to honor Army Pfc. Lori Piestewa, a Hopi from northeastern Arizona who was the first military servicewoman to die in the war. The plan would also settle complaints about Phoenix's Squaw Peak, a name many Indians find offensive.

But Napolitano has run into opposition from the board that oversees official state names and criticism from conservative lawmakers who say she's using Piestewa's death as political leverage.

"I think it sets the tone for what her governorship is going to be like," GOP state Rep. John Allen said.

Piestewa was among nine members of the Army's 507th Maintenance Company killed in an ambush near Nasiriyah last month. Pfc. Jessica Lynch, another member of the 507th and Piestewa's roommate, was rescued from an Iraqi hospital.

Piestewa was one of the few American Indian women in the armed forces, and Napolitano was cheered by mourners in Piestewa's hometown of Tuba City last weekend when she promised to honor the soldier's legacy by renaming the mountain and Squaw Peak Freeway in Phoenix.

Piestewa's brother said Wednesday the family supports the name change. "We are very honored and quite surprised," Wayland Piestewa said.

The governor said Wednesday she will lead an effort to create a memorial outside the state Capitol for all Arizonans who served in the war, while continuing her push for Piestewa Peak.

"The family and I have decided that that doesn't mean we are not honoring all the other Arizonans who have been killed in the line of duty in this war or have served," Napolitano said.

Napolitano spokeswoman Kris Mayes said the governor decided to pursue the name change the moment she learned of Piestewa's death.

"It's an event of national and historical importance," Mayes said. "I find it curious that lawmakers can't recognize that."

Squaw Peak has already survived several attempts to change its name, including a 1998 proposal to rename it after the late Sen. Barry Goldwater. The state board said it was too soon.

Solop contends the war lends statewide and national importance to the debate.

"Lori Piestewa becomes a symbol of the war in the sense that it represents diversity, some of the ideals the country is fighting for," he said.

But several people approached in Phoenix said they weren't familiar with the dispute. Others suggested the name change should honor either Piestewa or all Arizonans who have perished in war.

"If they want to rename it, it should be attributed to everybody, not just one person," said Ruth Tamilio, a 59-year-old teacher. "They could call it Soldiers' or Patriots' Peak, something that has to do with everyone fighting."

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