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Lori Piestewa
Tribes find common ground in sorrow By Martin Kasindorf, USA TODAY TUBA CITY, Ariz. On the desert mesas east of the Grand Canyon, Hopis and Navajos have been quarreling for centuries over land, grazing rights and water. Now, war and loss have eased the tensions, at least for a while.

Army Pfc. Lori Piestewa, one of the few American Indian women in the military, was found dead during the rescue of an American POW in Iraq.

Army Pfc. Lori Piestewa, one of the few American Indian women in the military, was found dead during the rescue of an American POW in  Iraq.

By Rudy Gutierrez, El Paso Times

The Native American tribes united in anxiety when Army Pfc. Lori Piestewa, 23, was reported missing in an ambush in Iraq on March 23. When word came over the weekend that she had been killed in action and her body found, shock stirred Hopi and Navajo alike. (Related stories: Fallen comrades | Remembered soldiers Lori Piestewa, daughter of a Hopi man and a Hispanic woman, was the first woman to die in the line of duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom . "We're all in the same boat right now, sympathizing with the family," says Gibson Jones, a Navajo. As president of the local chapter of Native American Veterans of the Vietnam War , he stood at attention in combat fatigues alongside veteran Archie Ortiz on Sunday at a makeshift memorial to Lori inside Bashas' Supermarket. The American flag and the green, white and yellow Hopi tribal flag flanked a table banked with flowers. Members of both tribes signed poster boards with messages for the family. Lori Piestewa (pie-ESS-ta-wah), a former softball standout for the Tuba City High School Warriors and commander of the school's Junior ROTC, was the youngest of four children. Her father, Terry, and her mother, Percy, work for the Tuba City school system. When Lori was divorced two years ago, she left this hardscrabble town of 8,200 and joined the Army for the security it would provide in raising her son, Brandon, now 4, and her daughter, Carla, 3. The children share the heritage of both tribes. Lori's ex-husband is Navajo. Deployed to Kuwait from Fort Bliss, Texas, in February, Lori left the children with their grandparents. At Fort Bliss, Lori's roommate and best friend was Jessica Lynch. One of them lived, one died. Retired Air Force general Wilma Vaught, president of the foundation that funded the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, says Lori was the first Native American woman killed by enemy action in the nation's wars. Tuba City is named for a 19th-century Hopi chief, Tuve, but it is on the Navajo reservation. About 2,000 Hopis live among the 6,000 Tuba City residents who are Navajo. Many Navajos say they are still simmering over an incident 30 years ago, when the nearby Hopi reservation evicted hundreds of Navajo sheepherders. "Lori wanted to bring the two tribes together, and that's happening now," says Myra Draper, a family friend. During 12 days of uncertainty about Lori's fate, Hopis and Navajos crowded the family's modest, double-wide trailer for prayer sessions every night.

At Kykotsmovi, the Hopi capital, Hopi veterans staged an all-comers prayer vigil. The next day, 500 people rallied for Lori at Tuba City High. Fifteen Vietnam veterans, Hopis and Navajos, walked 150 miles from here to the Navajo capital, Window Rock, Ariz. A sign in a window in the Piestewas' neighborhood read, "Make it Home, Lori." Area residents also used white stone to spell Lori's name on a 200-foot mesa outside of town. Christmas lights were still strung outside the weathered family trailer on Sunday. The chain-link fence was a shrine of posters, balloons, flowers and yellow ribbons. The sandy front yard was strewn with toys. Little Carla, too young to comprehend what was going on, rocked giddily on a swing set. The family attended morning Mass, then hosted relatives in the afternoon. A sign on the gate said, "Immediate family only." Lori's older brother, Wayland, read a statement to reporters Saturday: "Our family is proud of her. She is our hero. We are going to hold that in our hearts." The family is "being really strong," says Tammy Kewenvoyouma, 32, a waitress at Kate's Caf who knew Lori all her life. She had the same description of Lori that everyone gives: "an outgoing, fun person to be around." Hopi tribal chairman Wayne Taylor Jr. says, "This tragedy has rocked the very foundation of the Hopi reservation." He said 48 of the 56 Hopis currently in the armed forces are in Iraq. Queena Wagner, 17, who is of Hopi, Navajo and Alaska Native ancestry, says she isn't letting Lori's death change her plan to enlist in the Marines in August. "War or no war, I'll still go," she says. "Life is a challenge." A light snow, rare for April, dusted the area's dry sagebrush over the weekend. "The Hopi believe that when they die, they bring snow and moisture back to the people," tribal spokeswoman Vanessa Charles says. "So the snow was fitting."