Lori Ann Piestewa, White Bear Girl (Dec.04.1979 - Mar.23.2003)

Lewis Williams, OFS

Artist's Narrative:
First Native American woman to be killed in combat. First woman to be killed in the Iraq War.

Piestewa. The root of her name in Hopi means ‘water pooled in the desert after a hard rain.’ Piestewa are the people who live by this water. This single mom left behind her 4 year-old son, 3 year-old daughter and her family sustained in the desert by her ‘water’; symbolic of her sacrifice, service, love and the snow that gently fell the day they received word confirming her death in Iraq.

Above all she was a mother. A 23-year old Hopi Indian, without options or opportunities, on her beautiful, austere reservation in northern Arizona. Like so many others ‘on the rez’, whose dreams dry up quickly, isolated in the desert winds, the Army was opportunity and a quick fix. Money and benefits enabled her to support the loves of her life. Travel and adventure on the ‘road less traveled’ offered her the chance to dream again. She came from a family of warriors: her father served in Vietnam and her grandfather in WWII.

Her faith, both Catholic and Hopi, sustained her. She enlisted almost two years to the day before her death. The stories are conflicting. On 3/23/03, three days into the Iraq war, her 507th Maintenance Company out of Ft. Bliss, TX, on the push towards Baghdad, stopped to repair a vehicle. They were ambushed. Some were taken POW’s. Her body, and others were discovered in a shallow grave some days later.

In this image, she is accompanied by the kachina He’-e’-e’: the heroine known as the Warrior Woman. One version of the He’-e’-e’ story is that the men of her village were absent. As she was putting her hair up in the traditional whorl, the village was attacked. In a moment, she courageously chose to defend what she loved. Her haste is indicated by her hair: undone on one side and in partial bun on the other. She succeeded defending the village till the men returned. In the upper-right of the picture is a Hopi symbol of cloud and rain, in the traditional belief that if you’ve lived a good life, you will come home as rain.


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