In 2003, the Grand Canyon Staet Games announced the inaugural Lori Piestewa National Native American Games to honor Specialist Lori Piestewa, the first woman to die in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the first American Indian woman in history to die in combat.
This July 22-24th will mark the 10th anniversary of the Lori Piestewa National Native American Games. The seven-sport, three-day event will be held in the Fort McDowell, Salt River and Fountain Hills communities (for specific location information, visit gcsg.org/events/nativegames/maps.php).
SPC Lori Ann Piestewa, Hopi, a U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps soldier, was killed in action during an ambush in Nasiriyah, Iraq, in 2003 in the infamous battle that saw two other women, Shoshana Johnson and Jessica Lynch, injured. Lynch called Piestewa the true hero of the ambush (she successfully drove their Humvee at high speed through enemy fire until finally being hit by an RPG in the front-left wheel well) and was posthumously promoted from Private First Class to Specialist, receiving both a Purple Heart and a Prisoner of War Medal. In an article by Rolling Stone Magazine, Piestewa, known as “Pi” to her fellow soldiers, was recounted as being brave, calm, and compassionate. In one seminal moment for Jessica Lynch, the five-ton truck she was in that was hauling 400 gallons of water through the desert broke down. Lynch recalled being frightened and bewildered, until a Humvee rattled over. In it was Lori “Pi” Piestewa, Lynch’s roommate and best friend, who looked at her shaken friend and said, “Get in, roommate.”
The Lori Piestewa National Native American Games have been growingly steadily in the ten years of its existence. Featuring basketball, baseball, cross country, softball, track & field, volleyball and wrestling, the games have brought over 15,000 athletes ranging from 4 years-old to 78 from 21 states (plus Canada and the Bahamas), including 72 tribes.
All baseball teams (ages 9-12 years only) will play a minimum of three games, seven innings in length. The basketball portion of the games will include teams comprised of 4th to 12th graders, with each team guaranteed at least three games of full court, five-on-five action in the double elimination tournament. The cross country event is three divisions: 11-14, 15-19, and 20 years and over. Softball is slow pitch and co-ed, with the ages set at 15 and older. Track & Field is an adult event, with the minimum age set at 19, with each division encompassing a five-year age group. The six person volley ball teams are co-ed, with an age requirement of 18 and up. And finally the wrestling competition will be both Freestyle and Greco-Roman. Age divisions for wrestling can be found at thtemat.com/forms/weights.pdf.
Erik Widmark, executive director of the Grand Canyon State Games, told the Arizona Republic in 2007 that he wasn’t seeing Native Americans weren’t competing in the games in the numbers he thought they should be, that is, until he secured using Lori Piestewa’s name.
In that same article, when asked by the Arizona Republic how she felt about allowing her daughter’s name to be used by the Grand Canyon State Games for the event, Percy Piestewa said, “My family has always participated (in the games), we felt it was something good to represent Lori.” Lori’s mother felt the games were a fitting tribute to her daughter because Lori was a great athlete herself. Using Lori’s name for these games “honors someone willing to give their life for their country,” Percy Piestewa told the Republic.
As the 10th anniversary of the Lori Piestewa approaches, Widmarck said, “We are enthused about our 10th anniversary of the largest Native American Sports festival of its kind in the country. Hopefully Lori would pleased.”