SEPTEMBER 16, 2006


Born in Ignacio, Colorado, in 1912 and raised by her grandparents in New Mexico, her Tiwa name meant “Blue Water.”  She graduated from Albuquerque Indian School in 1930.  In the mid-1960s, she began helping linguist Randall Speirs document the Tewa language. They worked through the 60s & 70s to develop a Tewa dictionary.  Martinez taught Tiwa from 1974-89 at local schools and helped translate the New Testament into Tewa.  In 1992, she published a children’s book The Naughty Little Rabbit and Old Man Coyote and in 2004, My Life in San Juan Pueblo: Stories of Esther Martinez—Elli Köngäs-Maranda Prize winner.  She received an honorary Bachelor of Arts from Northern New Mexico College (2006), told traditional stories for the National Park Service, and was a National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) 2006 National Heritage Fellow.  Returning from NEA, she died in a car crash in Espanola, New Mexico.  In December 2006, the President signed the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act.

Sources:  “Native American Storyteller, Linguist dies at 94,” Associated Press, 9/18/2006.  Retrieved 7/11/2020,
Photo:  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, undated.  Public Domain.  Source:

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