Piestewa Peak hiking trailhead.

Piestewa Peak hiking trailhead. (Source--3TV/CBS5)

PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - It's a great honor to have a feature on this planet named after you. It's not a consideration given to anyone lightly. 

Standing tall at 2,610 feet, the second-highest mountain in the Phoenix Mountains bears the name of a woman who only knew that particular peak by a name that may have offended her. 

Piestewa Peak rises up in central Phoenix;  its trails are a popular destination for hikers. 

Tn the language of the native O'odham tribe, the mountain was called "Vainom Do'ag," which meaning "Iron Mountain."

But since the early 1900s, settlers in the area referred to the mountain as "Squaw Peak,' a term that's offensive to most modern Native Americans because of usage that demeans women, particularly Native American women.

For many years Arizona tribes lobbied for a name change to call the mountain by a different, more respectable name. It wasn't until the death of an Arizona soldier from Tuba City that the change came about. 

When Army Spc. Lori Ann Piestewa was killed in action in Iraq in March 2003, she became the first female soldier killed in action in the war, and the first Native American woman to die in combat in the U.S. military.

Spc. Lori Piestewa.

Spc. Lori Piestewa. [Source: 3TV/CBS5]

The state's newly elected governor at the time, Gov. Janet Napolitano, recognized the chance to honor a national hero and put a controversial geographical name in the past. 

The governor's request for a name change ignored a required waiting period of five years after a person's death prior to renaming a geographic feature after them. Arizona officially recognized the name change on April 17, 2003.

It was a different outcome when the feds took up the matter. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names refused to accept a similar petition for a name change citing its own five-year waiting rule. After five years, the board agreed to review the request ultimately approving the name change to Piestewa Peak. 

The mountain wasn't the only name change spurred by Piestewa's death.

State officials also decided to change the name of the freeway that lies right beside the mountain, as well.

From the start of the freeway planning in the 1960s, State Route 51 was known as the Squaw Peak Parkway. On May 1, 2003, it was renamed the Piestewa Freeway in honor of the fallen soldier.

Phoenix officials also have plans to change the name of the street that leads to the mountain. Some residents, however, are not ready to make that change, citing the historical aspects of the old name.

Fourteen years after her death, Piestewa is still remembered in an annual memorial service that was started in 2004 to honor her. The sunrise event has since expanded to honor other Arizonans who died as a result of combat.

In the past, when you considered the old name of the mountain, Squaw Peak, you might not have thought much of it, or perhaps you felt offended.

These days when you look up at the mountain named after a Hopi woman who made the ultimate sacrifice for America, Piestewa Peak, you'll know that its name tells an honorable story and stands for a proud heritage.

Copyright 2018 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

Content Producer

Eric is an assignment editor and content producer with AZ Family-3TV & CBS 5 News. Read more about Eric in his bio.

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