Lynch comes from a completely opposite side of America from Piestewa, one that is predominantly Anglo without much native interaction or contact.
Before meeting Piestewa, Lynch readily admits that she was not familiar with or had been personally exposed to native culture as she grew up. Nor had she ever spent any time on any reservation near her home of West Virginia, but this did not distract their bonding.
Lynch has repeatedly said privately and publicly that knowing Piestewa has changed her life.
It is most assuredly because Piestewa understood what acceptance, respect and appreciation for people means. She came from a caring reservation community that exhibits that trait daily and that made it easy to become friends with someone like Lynch, despite their diverse ethnic origins.
Tuba City showed its respect for their friendship and love by holding the honor reception to welcome Lynch to the hometown of Piestewa and extend true American Indian appreciation to Lynch simply by her association to their own native daughter.
The entire night members of Lori’s family flanked Lynch—including her parents, Terry and Percy Piestewa, who have essentially become like her own native parents. And the entire town and three local area tribes warmly embraced Lynch during the three- and a half-hour-long reception.
What was supposed to be a quick two-hour agenda, stretched to accommodate community members wanting to shake her hand or just to say that they were glad that she made it home alright and that she should take care to get better and mend. They let Lynch know that they were just grateful that she had survived such an ordeal and had known Piestewa through the whole event.
These are things that natives would say to any of their own close relatives who had made it home from a war because there is genuine affection, concern and appreciation for their life and happiness.
The reception that night was focused on Lynch, but the Tuba City community extended that same message to every veteran that evening—that life is very precious and that each of us is important no matter the color or point of origin.
Lynch was visibly moved by all the gifts of Pendleton blankets, shawls, eagle feathers, jewelry and a special Hopi Tihu in the image of the Lady Warrior. She also received CD’s recorded by native artists and a poster that had a Hopi contemporary design.
TC High senior Amy Borhauer, who is the current Student Body President, summed up the feelings of the community. She, along with senior and TC High Spirit Team Leader Zane Jenkins, gave Lynch several items bearing the logo of TCHS, which is Piestewa’s alma mater.
“We would like to recognize Jessica tonight from all of us here in Tuba City and Hopi, not for just being a soldier and giving her life to duty and country,” Borhauer said. “But we would also like to welcome her here because she was a friend to Lori Piestewa, who was part of us and was from this reservation community.”
(Rosanda Suetopka Thayer is Public Relations Director for Tuba City Unified School District.)