Luján Celebrates Legacy Of Esther Martinez In Floor Speech Supporting Language Justice Legislation

Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressman Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), the U.S. House Assistant Speaker, spoke on the House floor in support of the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Programs Reauthorization Act, bipartisan legislation to revitalize Native American languages.  

Video of Luján’s full speech is available here.

An excerpt from Luján’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, are included below:

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in strong support of the Esther Martinez Native American Languages Programs Reauthorization Act.

With the passage of this legislation, Congress has made monumental progress to affirm Native communities honoring their heritage by speaking the languages gifted to them by their Creators.

Today, we reauthorize the only existing federal Native language education grant programs. These programs give our First Americans crucial support to protect their languages from extinction…

New Mexico boasts a rich history and diversity that includes 23 Native Nations and seven Indigenous language groups found nowhere else on earth.

Esther Martinez, a master educator and linguist, dedicated her life to her Tewa language, which today is spoken across six northern Pueblos in my district and in Hopi-Tewa in Arizona.

As a child whose first language was Tewa, Mrs. Martinez attended a government-run Indian boarding school where nearly everything that made her a Pueblo woman was banned, including her language.

Her experience is not unique. Generations of Native families had their children torn from their arms – bound for schools that forced English and Western education on Native students.

Despite living through a period of overt racism with federal policies aimed at exterminating Native culture, Mrs. Martinez defied the odds by returning to Ohkay Owingeh. She raised her children and family to speak the Tewa dialect.

Esther went on to teach many more as a linguist, school teacher, and the director of bilingual education for her Pueblo.

Her legacy lives on in the sounds of Tewa being spoken in her community. Her son Tony and daughters Marie and Josephine are raising their children and grandchildren with Tewa in their homes.

Her daughter Mercedes is a regular attendee at adult language classes taught by a protege of her mother.

Her grandson Matthew Martinez, a doctor of American Studies and American Indian Studies, and former Lt. Gov. with the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, advances his culture at the Santa Fe Museum of Indian Art and Culture. He is also teaching Tewa to his young son.

Today, we pass this legislation knowing that it will help Native communities continue to protect their languages for generations to come.