Tuesday, September 19, 2006

NAT: Another Language Loss

Tewa linguist Esther Martinez dies at 94
HEATHER CLARK, Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE - Esther Martinez, a Tewa storyteller and linguist who
worked to preserve her native tongue, was killed in a traffic accident
on her way home from accepting the nation's highest honor for folk
artists, her grandson said Sunday. She was 94.

The car carrying Martinez, of Ohkay Owingeh, N.M., was hit Saturday
night in Espanola on its way from Santa Fe, where she had flown after
attending a National Endowment for the Arts celebration in Washington,
D.C., Matthew J. Martinez said. Two daughters with her, Josephine
Binford and Marie Sanchez, were injured but recovering.

"She was a pillar in our community," Matthew Martinez said. "She
embodied what it meant to be a Tewa person and lived it and practiced
it and served as a role model."

Details on the accident were not available Sunday night.

Martinez was honored along with 11 other folk and traditional artists as
a 2006 National Heritage Fellow, the NEA said in a news release. The
fellowship includes an award of $20,000.

She received a standing ovation in the nation's capital for her stories
and life's work preserving her native Tewa language and traditions, the
release said.

"To lose a national treasure as beloved as Esther Martinez in such a
senseless manner is truly tragic," NEA chairman Dana Gioia said. "New
Mexico and the entire country have lost an eloquent link to our past.
We can find solace in remembering her lifelong commitment to keeping
her culture alive and vibrant."

The Tewa are a linguistically related American Indian people who live in
seven communities, or pueblos - one in Arizona and six in New Mexico.

Martinez was born and raised in northern New Mexico, the NEA said in a
biography. Her American Indian name is P'oe Tswa, or Blue Water, but
she was known by many as Ko'oe Esther, or Aunt Esther.

She spent much of her childhood living with her grandparents and visited
her parents by traveling in a covered wagon.

She was a major conservator of the Tewa language, teaching her native
tongue from 1974 to 1989 at schools in Ohkay Owingeh, formerly known as
San Juan Pueblo.

She also helped translate the New Testament of the Bible into Tewa and
compiled Tewa dictionaries for pueblos, which have distinct dialects,
the NEA said.

Since 1988, Martinez told her stories in English to non-Tewa audiences
through Storytelling International.

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