Alfonso Ortiz

April 30, 1939 - September 27, 1998

In Honor of Alfonso Ortiz
who has returned to the lake

Returning to the Lake


Pauline Turner Strong

Over in the direction where the sun descends
Deep, deep within the sacred lake
From there the joyous singing
Of holy people comes forth!

Holy people are now emerging!
Holy people are now coming!
Holy people, with their corn- and wheat-
raising powers, have arrived here!
Holy people, with their clouds, rainwater, and
fog rainbow cast before them, have
arrived here!..

Deep, deep, within the sacred lake
From there the joyous singing
Of holy people comes forth!
From there the joyous calls
of holy people come forth!

Holy people are now emerging!
Holy people are now coming!
Holy people, with their singing and calling,
have arrived here!

Away over there holy people emerge!
Holy people are coming!
Holy people, with their children-people-
raising, with life-creating powers, have
arrived here!

Hapembe! Hapembe! Hapembe!

verses from Oku Shareh,
Turtle Dance Songs of the San Juan Pueblo

Translation © 1979
by Alfonso Ortiz
New World Records

On the Death of Prof. Alfonso Ortiz


Ted Jojola

It is with great regret that I announce the untimely death of our esteemed colleague, Professor Alfonso Ortiz. He passed away sometime Tuesday evening, (Jan 27-28th, 1998) at his Santa Fe residence after suffering from poor health over the past 6 months.

Dr. Ortiz was a renowned Native American anthropologist from the Pueblo of San Juan, New Mexico. During his lifetime he served in numerious community and advocacy roles as well as being one of the most prolific native scholars of this era. He was currently Professor of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. He was born in 1939.

In accordance with his wishes, Prof. Alfonso Ortiz's body will be cremated and distributed on one of the Sacred Mountains near his native Pueblo of San Juan. There will be no funeral.

The University of New Mexico will hold a special Memorial Service on Friday, February 7th at 4pm. Tentatively, the service will be held at the UNM Alumni Memorial Chapel pending a reconsideration on its seating capacity. If you plan to attend, you may wish to confirm before your arrival by contacting the Department of Anthropology at (505) 277-1536.

In addition, the Department of Anthropology has set up a special fund in honor of Prof. Alfonso Ortiz, to be used to help Native American students studying Anthropology. Donations may be sent directly to:

The UNM Foundation/Alfonso Ortiz Memorial Fund
The Department of Anthropology
University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87131

Tel: (505) 277-1536

The following obituary appeared in the Wednesday edition of the Albuquerque Tribune (Jan 29th, 1998):


Patricia Guthrie and Ollie Reed Jr. (Tribune Reporters)

Alfonso Ortiz, one of the few American Indians to provide anthropology with a view from the "inside out," is remembered for his numerous contributions at the University of New Mexico, first as a student, then as an esteemed professor.

"He was the most senior of our native professors on campus. He always had an enormous presence here," said Ted Jojola, past director of UNM's Native American Studies and now a UNM Associate Professor. "He served as one of my mentors and he served as an advocate in higher education for many American Indian students."

Ortiz, 57, died Monday night at his Santa Fe home. He had recently taken medical leave from teaching cultural and social anthropology at UNM, but had hoped to return this semester, said Elena Ortiz, one of his three children.

Ortiz was born April 30, 1939, at San Juan Pueblo in Northern New Mexico. He received a bachelor's degree in sociology from UNM in 1961 and his masters's and doctorate in anthropology from the University of Chicago. Ortiz taught at Princeton and Rutgers universities before returning to his alma mater to teach in 1974.

"I think the university is very much impoverished by this loss," said Marta Weigle, chairwoman of UNM's anthropology department. "It's hard to imagine how we'll replace him."

Ortiz won many awards, research grants and scholarships, including a postdoctoral fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant."

Author of numerous publications, he's best known for his book, "The Tewa World: Space, Time, Being and Becoming a Pueblo Society," published in 1969. He also edited two volumns of the Smithsonean Institution's "Handbook of American Indians."

As an American Indian anthropologist, Ortiz was both commended and criticized for revealing the traditions and people of New Mexico's pueblos.

But in recent years, he seemed to be coming to terms with his role in the academic world and his place at "Ohkay-Owingeh" -- The Place of the Strong People, said San Juan Pueblo Gov. Joe Garcia.

"There has been some friction because of some of the things he printed," said Garcia, leader of the 2,500-member pueblo northwest of Espanola. "But, in the Indian way, there was forgiveness. I think he realized he had done something not to the liking of elders."

"This is a great loss to the Indian community," Garcia added. "There was a lot of knowledge and wisdom in that man."

In an interview 14 years ago upon winning the $216,000 MacArthur grant, Ortiz said he chose the "fun" field of anthropology because "it was a way of being concerned with Indian matters all the time."

Many remembered Ortiz as willing to lend his name, time and testimony to causes ranging from uranium miners rights to religious freedom. He's also credited with founding UNM's Kiva Club, the first American Indian organization on campus.

"He had quite a reputation," said Karl Schwerin, a colleague in the anthropology department. "He was constantly being invited to give lectures and to serve on various boards and in various organizations."

Among his many public service activities, Ortiz was president of the Association on American Indian Affairs, Inc., from 1973 to 1988; a member of the board of trustees of the National Museum of the American Indian from 1989 to 1990; and a member of the National Advisory Council on the National Indian Youth Council from 1972 to 1990.

"He believed passionately in the worth of the native past and the importance of an Indian future, " said Rick West, director of the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonean Institution in Washington, DC.

West, who had known Ortiz for 30 years, said his friend "involved himself throughout his lifetime in activities that went far beyond the profession for which he was trained."

Ortiz is survived by two daughters, Julliana Ortiz of San Diego, Elena Ortiz of Santa Fe; a son, Nico Ortiz of Chicago; two sisters, Sylvia Medina of San Juan Pueblo, Louisa Montoya, of Inglewood, Calif.; and numerous nieces and nephews.

Letter from Moscow
Mark N. Trahant
Feb. 1, 1998

Three decades ago, a young scholar told students at a university lecture series about the need for American Indian heroes. "This country has honored too long the war chiefs. There is also a tradition of peace chiefs who deserve to be memorialized and honored," said the lecturer, an anthropologist by the name of Alfonso Ortiz.

Ortiz died this week. I am writing this column because somehow Ortiz' death escaped notice by the national news media. It should not have. Ortiz was a peace chief. He contributed volumes to the understanding of native culture.

Ortiz was born April 30, 1939, at San Juan Pueblo in northern New Mexico. He said one of his early teachers was his grandmother, "who taught me that if I couldn't explain what I was doing in the Tewa language, it probably wasn't worth doing."

He received his undergraduate degree at University of New Mexico. Then on to the University of Chicago for his master's and doctorate in anthropology. He taught at Princeton and Rutgers before returning to his native New Mexico in 1974. He wrote and edited numerous books, including his signature work, The Tewa World: Space, Time, Being and Becoming in a Pueblo Society.

As an anthropologist, Ortiz looked at ancient people in the context of today. He asked in a 1994 essay, for example, if there was any such "people" as the Pueblos. "After all, the term Pubelos today encompasses some forty thousand people speaking six mutually unintelligible languages and occupying thirty-odd villages stretched along a rough crescent of more than four hundred miles," Ortiz wrote in the book. "This question has to be at the heart of any discussion about cultural survival."

Ortiz looked at the anthropology of the living; he viewed Pueblo society through a two-thousand year prisim. "Pueblos have never been displaced from their homelands, something almost unique among North American Indian groups ... after more than four centuries of European exploration and colonization, most of the Pueblo people still live in places of their own choosing. The importance of this for cultural survival cannot be overemphasized, for, indeed, we might say that the Pueblos only believe in what they see and experience, and in their homeland they can see what they believe."

As a peacemaker, Ortiz cited works pointing to the common experience of people beyond the Pueblo. "When we seek to boil down underlying, connecting truths about what it means to be human, we see they are saying the same thing," he once said.

He demonstrated that a living Pueblo culture, indeed, any living culture, always borrows from its neighbors. Pueblo traders traveled in prehistoric times, exchanging not only material objects, but social institutions and religious knowledge. "This paattern of extensive trading and exchange was not so much altered by the Spanish and Americans as it was augmented," he wrote. Even when in conflict with other cultures, the Pueblos understood a common sense of destiny.

Ortiz predicted the people he loved would survive. One Tewa metaphor refers to the Pueblo people the way decaying vines mix with healthy ones - a revitalization that is the strength of the people and hope for the future. "Indeed, shifting to the Pueblo perspective," Ortiz wrote. "I do not think that it should be an object of suprise at all that these mature and sophisticated civilizations have survived two thousand years of in situ cultural development; the real wonder lies in the fact that a young and savage American nation has managed to survive over two hundred years." But then, Ortiz would note, that is not unique to Pueblos or even American Indians. "What we are dealing with ... is a universal and noble human aspiration - namely, the will to survive."

Geoff Gamble, a linguist and Washington State University's Interim Provost and Academic Vice President, said this about Ortiz, a professional colleague. "There are rare individuals who capture the essence. We recognize that in them and yet it's only after they're gone that we realize the loss."

Mark N. Trahant is editor and publisher of The Daily News of Moscow, Idaho, and Pullman, Washington.

Mark N. Trahant
Editor & Publisher
Moscow-Pullman Daily News
409 S. Jackson
Moscow, Idaho 83843

Tel: (208) 882-5561 ext. 247
Fax: (208) 883-8205

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