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Peak renamed: history at the crossroads in Arizona

PHOENIX - Commenting on the extraordinary decision of the Arizona State Board on Geographic and Historic Names to rename 'Squaw Peak' in honor of fallen American soldier Lori Piestewa, Arizona State Representative Jack Jackson Jr. stated, "History has come to the crossroads in Arizona." The board voted April 18 to rename the Phoenix landmark. Citizens attending the four-hour public meeting, cheered enthusiastically as the board also announced their decision to change the two-mile stretch of Arizona 51 known as 'Squaw Peak Freeway,' to the 'Lori Piestewa Freeway.'

Piestewa, a member of the Hopi Nation from Tuba City, was the first American woman killed in combat.

Shortly after her body was found along with eight other members of the Army's 507th Maintenance Company in Iraq, a massive e-mail campaign began among American Indians in favor of renaming the site in her honor. The name Squaw Peak, has long been a source of irritation to the Arizona Indian community which consists of 22 federally recognized tribal nations.

Rep. Jackson, a member of the Dine Nation from Window Rock is a long-time proponent of removing the word 'squaw' from all Arizona landmarks and geographic sites. He and his father, Arizona State Senator Jack Jackson Sr., originally announced that they would not support renaming the mountain after Piestewa in deference to the wishes of her tribe and family. "The primary issue has been to respect the wishes of the family and their traditions." he pointed out.

"Once the family said it was appropriate to take this action, we supported their decision."

Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano contacted the Piestewa family who said they had decided to support the name change, but also expressed concern that the other soldiers who gave their lives should not be forgotten.

The issue has become a sensitive subject in Arizona as Gov. Napolitano has been accused of using political pressure to ensure the peak would be renamed after the fallen warrior. The Governor allegedly asked Names Board Chairman Tim Norton to resign recently after he initially refused her request to consider the change. In addition, board members Pat Shroeder, Steve Meszaros, and Richard Pinkerton have all submitted their resignations as a result of the controversy.

In his letter of resignation, Pinkerton stated he would not "prostitute his integrity" to satisfy the governor's "political venue." The remaining board members voted 5-1 to support the change. Lloyd Clark, the lone dissenting voter, suggested that the other members voted favorably only because their "jobs depend on it."

However, Dr. Carolyn Daugherty, professor of Geography and Public Planning at Northern Arizona University and deputy voting member of the Names Board, says that although dealing with this issue was "painful in many ways," the board has been in favor of removing the word 'squaw' from the peak for at least five years. She says they have been searching for an appropriate name and points out that the proposed name 'Piestewa Peak' had tremendous local as well as tribal support.

"It is time to relegate this term to the annals of history and to bring this well-known Phoenix landmark into the 21st century." she said. Daugherty also believes that the supporting board members are in agreement.

Rep. Jackson holds that Napolitano was acting out of benevolence and that the issue was discussed frankly and openly in full public view. "I can't imagine anyone wanting to politicize this process; from the Hopi Nation to the Governor. A brave young woman has joined other Native Americans who have paid the ultimate price to defend our freedoms. It would be dishonorable not to commemorate that sacrifice, and people of good will from all walks of life support that commemoration."

There are still other Arizona geographic and historic sites that contain the word 'squaw' in their titles, and Daugherty says she believes they will be addressed in a more formal manner. "The extraordinary circumstances surrounding this situation will, God willing, not be something that becomes commonplace in the future," she said. Rep. Jackson agrees. "History should not be a tie that binds us; It should be a window to see how we were, and how we can be. Now it is time for us to move on."

According to Linda Strock who has replaced Norton as the board's chairperson, the name change is now final. The next step is to transmit supporting materials to the National Board for review in order to begin the name change process for federal mapping.