Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories

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Estefanita “Blue Water” Martinez

Estefanita “Blue Water” Martinez


Honored November, 1996

Estefanita “Blue Water” Martinez

Storytelling was a way the pueblo community of San Juan stayed together.  Estefanita learned to write and read in the Tewa language as an adult after an education in English at the Santa Fe Indian School.  She has helped translate the Bible from English, worked as a linguistic consultant for universities and developed the first written dictionary of the language.  She has authored several children’s books, co-directed the Tewa Language Project at San Juan Pueblo and narrated in Tewa a video depicting the life of Christ and CD-ROM learning materials for her tribe.  In 2004, at age 92, she published her first book, My Life in San Juan Pueblo: Stories of Esther Martinez.

“Language goes hand in hand with tradition.  If you don’t have a language, your tradition goes too.  To keep a language alive, you have to keep speaking it and enjoy it. Use it or lose it.”

Estefanita received the 1998 Governor’s Award for Excellence and Achievement in the Arts; is a recipient of the Institute for the Preservation of the Original Languages of the Americas award in 1999; and was honored on September 12, 2006 with the National Heritage Fellowship Award in Washington, D.C., for her work in preserving the Tewa language.  For years she was the traditional storyteller for the National Park Service and for numerous schools and organizations.  

Sadly, Estefanita was killed on September 16th, 2006, in a car accident caused by a drunken driver, while returning home from Washington where she attended the celebration to receive her National Heritage Fellowship Award accompanied with a standing ovation for her stories and life’s work.  Shortly after her death, a native-languages bill named The Esther Martinez Native Languages Preservation Act was signed into law in tribute to her life’s work.  The Act will establish grants for governments, colleges and other Indian educational organizations working to preserve native cultures and language.