National Heritage Fellow, Esther Martinez Honored With Roadside Marker

Date November 5, 2008 at 11:00 PM

Categories Community


Members of the Esther Martinez, Ko'oe P'oe Tsáwä (Aunt Blue Water), family, friends and community will gather on Saturday, November 8, 2008, at 3:30 p.m., to witness the unveiling of the Official Scenic Historic Marker in her honor. The marker is located on N.M. Hwy. 68 just north of Mile Marker 4 and before the second entrance into Ohkay Owingeh. There will be a ribbon cutting ceremony followed by a reception at Ohkay Casino.

The marker honors Esther Martinez for her contributions to preserving the Tewa Language of the Eight Northern Pueblos and the stories of Ohkay Owingeh (formerly San Juan Pueblo). She taught the language in the San Juan Pueblo schools from 1974-1989 and compiled a Tewa dictionary that has been modeled in each of the Tewa-speaking communities. She also helped the Wycliffe Bible translators in the translation of the New Testament into Tewa. Most importantly she continued the oral tradition of storytelling and traveled extensively, telling her stories in English to non-Tewa audiences for various organizations and events including Storytelling International.

"My mother was a very humble lady,"€ said daughter Josephine Binford. "She would have been very honored by this recognition."€

In 1997, she received the Teacher of the Year award from the National Council of American Indians and, in 1998, the New Mexico Arts Commission presented her the Governor's Award for Excellence. In 2004, My Life in San Juan Pueblo: Stories of Esther Martinez was published by the University of Illinois Press. The National Endowment for the Arts named Martinez a National Heritage Fellow in 2006. It was on her return trip home from receiving this award that Esther Martinez was tragically killed in a DUI traffic accident on September 16, 2006, in Española.

The New Mexico Historic Women Marker Initiative began with three members from the New Mexico Women's Forum, Pat French, Beverly Duran and Alexis Girard. They received funding from Governor Bill Richardson and the 2006 New Mexico Legislature to work with New Mexico communities to develop nominations of historically significant women for new roadside markers honoring women. Prior to the initiative, none of the state's more than 620 markers directly honored women and their contributions to state history. The Initiative is a project of the New Mexico Women's Forum and is overseen by the Historic Preservation Division of the Department of Cultural Affairs, and the Department of Transportation. There will be 54 markers honoring women's lives installed in each county and pueblo, and on Apache and Navajo lands. Thirty-three markers have been approved and await fabrication and installation. The first marker of the project dedicated to the Sisters of Loretto was installed in Santa Fe on December 2, 2007.

"The marker to Esther Martinez was one of the first approved for this project by the state's Cultural Properties Review Committee,"€ said Initiative Chairwoman, Pat French. "It's the first marker dedicated solely to the achievements of one woman in the state of New Mexico. The Martinez family and the community of Ohkay Owingeh have been great supporters of this Initiative. We are delighted to honor Esther Martinez, who is a state and national treasure, with her own marker."€

The ceremony takes place on November 8 and begins promptly at 3:30 p.m. at the marker site for the unveiling and ribbon cutting with a blessing by a community leader of Ohkay Owingeh. A reception will follow at Ohkay Casino, generously hosted by the Ohkay Owingeh Tribal Council and the Tsay Corporation. The Ice Mountain Dancers are featured and family and friends will share stories about Esther Martinez. On display at the reception will be her many honors and awards, including the original U.S. Congressional bill for the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act signed into law in December 2006.

A Mass of Intention will be said for Martinez at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church at Ohkay Owingeh presided over by Father Terrence Brennan at 5:30 p.m. To end the day's events, there will be a concert given by the Sangre de Cristo Chorale in the church at 7 p.m. for invited guests and members of the Ohkay Owingeh community. The Chorale will present the world premier of The Song of Blue Water, written by New Mexico composer John Michael Luther in honor of Esther Martinez and featuring guest artist, Native American flutist Ronald Roybal. (The Chorale will present the piece to the general public in a concert on November 9 at Santa Maria de la Paz Catholic Church.)

First Lady Barbara Richardson, Honorary Chair of the Initiative, Governor Earl Salazar of Ohkay Owingeh, and members of the Esther Martinez family including daughter Josephine Binford and grandson, Dr. Matthew Martinez will preside over the ribbon-cutting. Special guests from Tribal Offices, the Department of Cultural Affairs, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Indian Affairs, County Commissioners and members of the New Mexico Women's Forum will also be on hand.

What: Esther Martinez Marker ceremony
When: November 8, 2008, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Mile Marker 4, Northbound Hwy 68

What: Reception
When: 4:15 p.m.
Where: Ohkay Casino

What: Mass of Intention
When: 5:30 p.m.
Where: St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Ohkay Owingeh

What: Concert by the Sangre de Cristo Chorale
When: 7:00 p.m.
Where: St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Ohkay Owingeh