Gov. Janet Napolitano is launching a new bid to protect the recent renaming of a Phoenix mountain from Squaw Peak to Piestewa Peak and picked up immediate support Monday from representatives of Indian tribes from across the nation.

Napolitano received an enthusiastic welcome as she addressed delegates to the midyear conference of the National Congress of American Indians, being held this week at a new resort at the Gila River Indian Community, west of Chandler.

Tex G. Hall, president of the tribal governments association, praised Napolitano for "historic and unprecedented" efforts to change the name of the Phoenix landmark to honor Army Spc. Lori Piestewa, a Hopi from Tuba City. Piestewa was the first American Indian woman to die fighting with U.S. military forces. She was killed after her unit was ambushed in March in Iraq.

"We have ensured that Lori’s memory will endure to inspire future generations across Arizona, and hopefully across the country," Napolitano said.

But the Tribune reported Friday that two members of the state Board on Historic and Geographic Names want the name change to be reconsidered at a July meeting, claiming the state rushed too quickly and the board violated its own rules when the decision was made in April.

"There are a few people who just can’t get over it," Napolitano said Monday in response to the Tribune story. "I think that would be a terrible mistake and a backward step that we should not take."

Napolitano called on tribal delegates to send letters and e-mails of support to the state board.

"Let them know that Squaw Peak, that name, is an offensive part of our history and is best left in the past," Napolitano said. "What better way to leave it in the past but to honor the first Native American woman killed in combat."

After Napolitano’s speech, the delegates adopted by voice vote a joint declaration in support of keeping the Piestewa Peak name. State Rep. Jack Jackson Jr., D-Window Rock, said the swift action demonstrates how important Piestewa’s legacy already has become to American Indians.

"Hearing firsthand from the 250 tribes that are representative of the National Congress of American Indians will send a strong message," said Jackson, a Navajo and an individual member of the association.

Hall told delegates in a separate address that Indian tribes face one of their biggest political challenges of the past century. The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs is undergoing fundamental reform with little direct input from tribes, Hall said. The BIA also is struggling with a thorough accounting of billions of dollars of trust funds managed on behalf of tribes and their individual members.

At the same time, several federal court decisions threaten to grant states new control over tribal lands and erode the authority of American Indians to rule themselves, Hall said.

He called on the tribes to be more active in the courts, at the ballot box and in the halls of power.

"Now is the time for us to fight," Hall said. "We cannot sit back in silence. We will lose if we are divided."

The conference continues through Wednesday at the Wild Horse Pass Sheraton Resort and Spa.

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