PHOENIX – 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 Pfc. 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 number of e-mails about the name change, and that about 1,300 called or wrote in to voice their opinion on the issue.
“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.
Yost said about two-thirds of those who contacted the board supported the name change.
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.