Nina Pacari is an indigenous Kechwa from Ecuador. As a politician and lawyer, Nina is a celebrated defender of indigenous communities in Latin America, particularly the Kechwa. In 1989, Pacari was called to serve as legal advisor to CONAIE, the largest and strongest umbrella organisation representing the interests of Ecuador’s indigenous people at the national level. Eight years later, she was elected by the National Assembly as National Executive Secretary for Indigenous and African American Affairs. Other milestones in Nina Pacari’s political career include her participation as a member of the Constituent Assembly in 1998, and her appointment as the first indigenous woman to the Ecuadorian Parliament in August of the same year. The appointment (as the first woman and indigenous!) as Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2003, as well as the election as a judge at the Constitutional Court in May 2007 crown her political career.
Nina Pacari, formerly María Estela Vega Conejo, grew up as the child of a petty trader with eleven siblings. As a child, Pacari suffered from widespread racism and discrimination based on her origin and therefore denied her indigenous roots in public. Then, with her law studies in Quito, Ecuador, she gradually developed an awareness of her origins together with other students, and especially worked to defend the Kichwa language, which was in decline. With the increasing awareness of her identity, Nina Pacari therefore changed her name, originally derived from Spanish, to a Kichwa-derived name at the age of 24.
One of Pacari’s central insights lies in the observation that indigenous populations are not conceived of as „ethnic minorities“, but rather as distinct nationalities with their own language, history and territory. Based on this assumption, Nina Pacari is now fighting for the official recognition of indigenous nationalities and their culture, as well as for their rights vis-à-vis the state. She is also fighting for the rights of nature.