Chimayó native ‘embodied the culture of the acequias’

September 23, 2017 GMT

Josie E. Lujan, a Chimayó writer, historian and advocate for acequias, died this week from natural causes following an accidental fall, family members said. She was 75.

Lujan was an enormously influential figure in acequia communities, said Paula Garcia, executive director of the New Mexico Acequia Association.

Lujan, who served as commissioner with the state Acequia Commission and on the board of the acequia association, shared her research and expertise on water law and water rights with communities around the state that maintain traditional irrigation ditches, Garcia said, and was “instrumental” in helping to form those communities into regional associations that could more effectively grapple with often intensely complex water-rights adjudication issues.

“She really embodied the culture of the acequias,” Garcia said. “She was very gracious and she loved to tell stories that had been passed on to her — it was really meaningful to learn from someone like her, because she really lived it and her life revolved around it.”


“Those of us who worked with her will remember the numerous books, maps, reports and papers that filled her kitchen table and countertops as she dedicated years to the documentation and legal defense of acequia water rights,” she added in a message to association members. “Her warmth, love, wit, intelligence, most of all her smile, will be missed by all who knew her.”

Lujan’s biography includes work with the board of trustees at the Presbyterian Española Hospital Foundation, the MANA del Norte scholarship committee and Santa Cruz Irrigation District.

Lujan earned a degree in humanities from the College of Santa Fe. She received grants from the Ford Foundation and The University of New Mexico to study in Spain and Mexico respectively.

She received a National Endowment for the Arts award and won a grant to publish the historical drama, Los Moros y Los Cristianos, about the colonial-era Christian efforts to unify Spain. She also directed live productions of the drama. Costumes designed for a pageant depicting Los Moros y Los Cristianos were exhibited in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

“The history, the faith, the culture, the land, everything in her work had a very common thread,” said daughter Mary Beth Lujan.

A funeral mass was held Friday in Chimayó, where Lujan worked as a catechist and parish administrator for 25 years. She was passionate about her faith, her family said.

Daughter Mary Margaret Lujan Ney said Lujan’s great-grandchildren each made an offering Friday to the Virgin Mary with an item from Lujan’s garden, an abiding love of hers.

Lujan taught her young family members, “If you take care of the land, it will take care of you,” Lujan Ney said. “She lived off the land as much as possible.”


“In addition to a lot of things she gave us and passed on, she planted the seeds of a love of travel and a love of books,” said daughter Mary Rose Montalvo, recalling a bus tour in Rome during which the guide relinquished the microphone to Lujan so she could share her expertise on historical aspects of the Christian faith.

“The kids in the back of the bus were wondering if they needed to tip Ms. Josie,” Montalvo remembered with a laugh.

According to her obituary, Lujan is survived by her five daughters, her sister, nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Contact Tripp Stelnicki at 505-428-7626 or