What does it mean to be indigenous? Finding identity through the trees

Jessica Vega Ortega at the XV World Forestry Congress - Photo By Pilar Valbuena/FAO

By Jennifer Hong, Canada

Jessica Vega Ortega is from the San Miguel Ahuehuetitlán community in Oaxaca, Mexico, a community named for being between the trees. From a young age, Jessica knew she loved trees but never thought more about her appreciation for them until the age of 12.

When she was 12, she returned to her community after the death of her relatives. When she returned, she was told she was not indigenous as she wasn’t born there, yet outside of her community, she was told she was indigenous. As a child, this was difficult to understand but Jessica returned to her community and continued to learn more about her connection with nature. For her, nature is everything ­– it is love, it is medicine, and it is her connection to her family. By surrounding herself in nature, she was guided by the voices of her ancestors.

For this reason, Jessica continued to study political science and engage in human rights discussions to amplify the voices of indigenous peoples in protecting their forests, their lives, and their connections with mother earth.

As an activist, Jessica is motivated to uplift other voices and bring other people with her because she knows that this work cannot just be done by one person.

For Jessica, a tree is equivalent to a person. In her words, we need to care about trees just like we would a brother or sister. We have an opportunity to save lives for future generations.  

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