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Remembering an American Indian hero

TUBA CITY, Ariz. - Wayland Piestewa said his family often sits around for hours on end talking about all the cross currents swirling around the memory of his sister, Lori.

It's been one emotional roller coaster after another ever since Army Spc. Lori Piestewa became the first Native American woman killed in combat on foreign soil last March in southern Iraq while heroically trying to drive her humvee to safety through enemy forces in the city of Nasiriyah.

First, there was the gut-wrenching turmoil of Lori missing in action. Then, the sorrow of her death. That was followed by the pride of Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano telling thousands packed into Tuba City's Warrior Pavilion for a memorial service that she would see to it that the offensive moniker of one of Phoenix's most prominent landmarks, Squaw Peak, would be changed promptly to Piestewa Peak.

Napolitano delivered on that promise, strong arming the Arizona State Board on Geographic and Historic Names, whose members she appoints, to rapidly change the name and not wait for the normal five years.

But now forces are aligning against the decisions Napolitano made last spring.

An Arizona House bill was introduced Jan. 12 that would remove control of the geographic and historic names board from the governor's office. The lead sponsor of the bill, Republican state Rep. Phil Hanson, along with 37 other Republican co-sponsors, hope to see quick passage of the bill so a new board can be appointed by the legislature. The goal is to have the name Piestewa Peak rescinded and Squaw Peak reinstated.

That follows on the heels of a City of Phoenix committee deadlocking on the issue of whether the surrounding recreation area of Piestewa Peak, which is still known as the Squaw Peak Recreation Area, should have its maps, trails and signs changed to Piestewa.

And then there are others, including some members of the Piestewas' own Hopi tribe, who say that the names of peaks in the distant Phoenix metropolitan area are irrelevant to their culture and that one of the mountains in the San Francisco Peaks, sacred to northern Arizona's Indian tribes, should be changed to Piestewa Peak.

"It's all very confusing, to say the least," Wayland Piestewa said. "It's unfortunate for us because we've been caught in the middle of all these things and we haven't had any input into any of the decisions."

For example, Piestewa said that his family met with relatives of other slain soldiers from Arizona in the Iraqi campaign and that all agreed it would be appropriate to name a peak after all the state's soldiers killed during the conflict. But, that idea got lost in the shuffle when Squaw Peak's name, along with the nearby Squaw Peak Freeway, were changed to Piestewa.

Piestewa said that one member of the family attended the contentious meeting in Phoenix recently concerning the Squaw Peak Recreation Area and was "shocked about all the angry words that were spoken."

The Phoenix Parks and Recreation Board has received more than 400 comments on a Web site that it posted about Squaw Peak's name change, about evenly split between those who favor the Piestewa name change and those who oppose it.

Piestewa also said that he doesn't support the naming of one of the mountains in the San Francisco Peaks for his sister because "it's hidden on the northeast side of the range and you can't even see it in Flagstaff."

Although he said his family doesn't have any strong feelings pro or con about whether Piestewa Peak should retain its name, Wayland Piestewa said he felt that great resentment would be stirred among Indian tribes nationwide now if the name was changed back to Squaw Peak.

"My parents have been visiting tribes all over the nation since Lori's death and Piestewa Peak is a symbol of honor and pride among all Indian peoples," Wayland Piestewa said. "To change it now as some sort of quick fix would be met with resistance from across the country."

Piestewa also said that he hopes the media will be more considerate of the family's feelings if more videotape of Lori in Iraq surfaces.

Two weeks ago, NBC aired tape of the suffering solder in an Iraqi hospital only minutes before she died in a bed next to her best friend, Jessica Lynch.

The decision to air the tape triggered a stiff rebuke from Wayland Piestewa, who labeled it "domestic terrorism" by "our own people wanting to make a quick buck off the misfortune of two beautiful young women."

Wayland also attacked the Bush Administration, army commanders and lawmakers who sanctioned the war in the family's strongest anti-war statement yet since Lori's death.

"We know there's probably more tape out there of Lori's last hours and we hope that the media outlets will think of us before they do something like this again," Wayland Piestewa said.