March 2014

Honoring the Spirit of the Española Valley

A Tewa Perspective


Matthew J. Martinez


I grew up at Ohkay Owingeh, a place that is situated in a vast landscape of mountain ranges, rivers and valleys rich in agricultural lands, and surrounded in a history of trickster stories and coyote voices. At the confluence of the Río Grande and Chama River exists a meeting ground of Tewa people who traveled from the north, from the earth and other emergence vessels to a place we call home—Ohkay Owingeh—place of the strong people. Nearby petroglyphs date back 10,000 years. Like a bead of knotted cords, the Río Grande weaves ancestral homelands of Posu Owingeh, Posi Owingeh, Puye and many others villages that feed our valley’s memory and spirit.


Pueblo people have always been writing history, and we continue to be shaped by texts in pottery, weavings and petroglyphs that document migration patterns and seasonal markers. Often not fully knowing or understanding them entirely, we continue to call upon them in prayer, dance and ceremony for guidance. Our dance rhythms and motions are stories within stories. We are a people of stories. Through story life is created, and it is this poeh (pathway) we continue to follow. Remembering and honoring place is the essence of Pueblo people—townspeople. The place we honor also embodies the spirit of the greater Española Valley.


Indigenous peoples are inherently connected to the land. We all have creation stories that include emergence from lakes and mountains. Everything is connected. Nothing is separate, meaning that rock people, cloud people, corn people, animal people and people people are all related. The notions of relations and relationality fundamentally define Pueblo people in how we experience the world.


The Pueblos have always had a relationship with other indigenous peoples. This is evident in our language through borrowed words, food and dress. Beyond the Southwest we traded coral and shells, which continue to be used in dance, as well as other items like macaw feathers. The Southwest was a trading hub for Mesoamericans and Puebloans between the 11th and 14th centuries. Mexica and other Nahuatl-speaking Mesoamerican people may have bartered beans for gems unique to the Southwest, such as turquoise. Turquoise is found as far away as Chichen Itza, Mexico, in a region where it is known that no turquoise mines existed. From a spiritual and cultural perspective, Pueblos have always practiced a way of life free of geographic borders, but still remain situated within a localized homeland.


Our directions are land-based. There is no concept of north, south, east and west per se. For example, as Tewa people our “east” is known as Than piye, where the sun rises. Our mountains define our boundaries; Tsay Shu Pin, Tsikomu Pin, Kuuseng Pin, Oku Pin, are all surrounding sacred mountains. Depending on their geographic location to mountain ranges, each pueblo has its own unique reverence for such places. Unlike other tribes that relocated, or more “nomadic” tribes, Pueblo people are place-based. Just like the United States turns to the National Archives in D.C., or the Catholic Church to the Vatican in Rome, our Pueblo memory and archives are located here. Since time immemorial, we still return for knowledge and spiritual feedings to these surrounding landscapes. Pin is the Tewa word for mountain, but it also means heart. In many respects, these are one and the same, as the heart of mountains is often the heart and soul of all ecological life.


Tewa scholar Alfonso Ortiz stated, “One is not born a Tewa, but rather one is made a Tewa. Once made, one has to work hard continuously throughout one’s life to remain a Tewa.” This is ever constant, and remaining Tewa can be remembered and renewed in a variety of ways. One significant step is connecting our life values conducive to our homelands. We are at a crucial state to not only remember, but more importantly to act and center our life on core values of sigicandi—love care, respect. Ewanini Kuundawhoha.


Matthew J. Martinez, Ph.D., teaches at Northern New Mexico College in Española. ADD INFO?



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1 thought on “Honoring the Spirit of the Española Valley”

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