Born in La Esperanza, Honduras in 1971, from a young age Berta was aware of the inequalities many of her people faced and helped to combat them. She was a Lenca woman, the Lenca people are the largest indigenous group in Honduras and rely on their environment for survival by participating in agriculture and crafts to generate income. Being a Lenca girl and having grown up at a time when violence swept through Honduras, her values were always enshrined in the belief that she should help protect others freedoms. This was fostered further by her mother, who was a midwife and social activist who taught her children the importance of standing up for people’s rights. Berta would assist her mother every day by helping fetch medication for her mother’s sick patients and lighting candles for the children dying from dehydration. This started Berta’s life-long devotion to fighting for civil rights.
When Berta was 18, she attended university and became a student activist. At the age of 19, she founded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras. This organization united the Lenca people, of which she was one, and helped to provide education, inspire leadership and offer them a platform to express themselves. Berta would say about the resistance the Council faced from the government that “They are afraid of us because we are not afraid of them”. I think this quote really envisions what Berta was about, she was fearless and firmly believed in protecting the rights of the Lenca people and fixing the corupte country she was from. A lot of her fights were directly against the Honduran government making her a very unpopular political figure in the country.
The National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras was dedicated to protecting the environment and the land of the Lenca people. The council would fight against illegal logging taking place on Lenca lands and fight for their territorial rights, improving the Lenca people’s livelihoods in the process. It was founded on Berta’s belief that “We have no replacement planet, we have only this one.” Much of what Berta believed was founded on time running out for the planet and that through people coming together to take action and coexisting life could be protected.
In 2015 Berta was awarded with the Goldman prize, also known as the “Green Noble”. It was given to her in recognition of her battle to save the Gualcarque river from being segmented and diverted by dams. Having received threats of violence throughout her career and criticised the government for not providing her adequate security she went into hiding. Sadly on March 3rd 2016 Berta was assassinated in her home. She was only 43.
I love Berta and everything she stood for. The robing of indigenous lands and the forced assimilation governments frequently make indigenous people participate in has been a problem for centuries, since the times of empire and colonialism. Berta as an indegonous woman, gave her people a voice, she faced a violent regime head on and made positive change, inspiring people, especially other indigenous women to fight for their and their people’s rights. I want to leave you with this quote “We have to wake up! We have to wake up, humankind! We’re out of time.”