I’ve travelled to the USA from my home base in north Australia at least once a year for the past 10 or more years, most often to attend at annual meetings of the Society of Ethnobiology at various university campuses, usually during spring break. I can’t recall when it was that I first met up with Jessica Orozco—it may have been at Ohio State University in 2011—but we were certainly good bud-smoking mates by the 2012 meeting at the Denver Botanic Gardens, when we’d meet up most mornings and evenings for a quiet smoke and a loud laugh and more outside our hotel.
Jessica was one of a dozen or so regulars at the Ethnobiology meetings that made the long trip across the Pacific—and then across the country and back— worthwhile. If you weren’t impressed by Jessica from the get-go then you’d want to be checking your pulse. She had a warm and infectious laugh, a razor wit matched with a fiendish intelligence and was humble and gracious with it all. I never heard or read a mean or angry word from her. Testament to her character is that all of the photos of her and her very many fiends at her Facebook page they are all smiling or laughing.
She was a regular presenter at Society of Ethnobiology meetings and has for many years worked with First Nation tribes across southern and central California and Arizona and did her Masters on the floristic history of the lands of the Tule River Tribe in the southern Sierra Nevadas in California. More recently Jessica was working with the Hualapai Tribe as a Range Scientist around Peach Springs, Arizona and as a Tribal Botanist for the Costanoan Rumsen Carmel Tribe at Pomona in California. You can read more about Jessica Orozco’s work here. In 2016 Jessica was awarded the Society of Ethnobiology Indigenous Ethnobiologist Fellowship while she was a graduate student at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden through Claremont Graduate University.
The Society of Ethnobiology posted—in part—the following about the passing of Jessica:
To Jessica’s family and loved ones: We hope that as you mourn the loss of Jessica you may find some comfort in knowing that her friends in the Society of Ethnobiology are grieving with you. Our hearts go out to you now and in the future as our members continue discussing ways to memorialize Jessica.
The Native American Rangelands Advisory Committee of the Society for Range Management posted the following tribute.
We are grieved to learn of the tragic loss of Jessica Orozco, one of SRM’s emerging leaders with the Native American Rangelands Advisory Committee. Jessica’s energy and passion for rangelands and ethnobotany leaves some well-defined footsteps for our other Native students to follow. Jessica was an instrumental partner with our Native American Rangeland Management Training Initiative and was the rangeland manager for the Hualapai Nation in Arizona. Jessica developed a number of important programs for the Hualapai’s tribal youth, and planted her seeds of enthusiasm in them as well as with anyone who came into contact with her. Losing her is a big blow to all of us who knew her, and to conservation as a whole. Just a few days ago she submitted this photo along with a quote for why she belonged to the SRM. There are no words to describe how we felt about belonging to her. While we mourn her loss, please join us in celebrating her bright countenance and brave perseverance, and let us be torch-bearers for her contagious enthusiasm. Please pray for her family during this difficult time.
You will be greatly missed, Jessica
~ The Native American Rangelands Advisory Committee
One friend, noting that for the past few years Jessica had taken on her nephew as her own son to raise him up, said that:
When James was a baby, she’d show me photos all the time and say “This is my heart, he’s my heart, I have to protect him because you have to protect your heart.”
Details of how Jessica’s life ended are sketchy at present, but according to the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office, they attended at a residence in Concho Drive, Kingman late on Saturday night just passed after reports of gunfire and located Jessica, who was then taken to the Kingman Regional Medical Center but did not survive. A later unconfirmed report said that Jessica had taken her son/nephew’s friend home from a party and that after the child failed to get a response from knocking on the door, Jessica stepped up and knocked more firmly. Someone in the house fired a gun through the closed door and Jessica was shot.
Jessica’s family have posted the following advice.
For those able to attend, Memorial Services for Jessica will be held at the Hualapai Tribal Gymnasium starting at 10am, Friday, November 2, 2018. (960 Rodeo Way, Peach Springs, Az 86434, across the Natural Resources Office located 930 Rodeo Way.
The family apologize for the short notice, but we are in a time crunch. Thank you all for your continuous support.
Also, friends and family due to the nature of the incident, it will be a closed casket service. Cremation will follow the services and Jessica will be taken home to California and then her final resting place in Reno, NV at Our Lady of Sorrows Cemetery.
A memorial is being planned for November 18 at Indian Canyon, CA but has yet to be confirmed.
There is now a gofundme campaign for Jessica’s son, James. Details follow.
Rest in power Jessica M. Orozco, taken from family and friends much too soon. We all knew Jessica to be courageous and outgoing, a strong woman who could germinate smiles from stones.
Friends, family, and colleagues have set up this campaign to help Jessica’s adopted son (and nephew) James, who has a long road ahead, but we can help with his healing by bringing Jessica’s wide-reaching community together to secure funds for him now, and into the future.
Jessica received her Masters in botany #botanyisbitchin #plantsnotpants from Claremont Graduate University and worked as range scientist for the Hualapai Nation. The Society of Ethnobiology has recently renamed one of their Fellowships, an award Jessica received in 2016 , to the “Jessica Mae Orozco Indigenous Ethnobiologist Fellowship”.
A memorial will be held at the Hualapai Tribal Gymnasium on Friday, November 2, 2018 at 10am.
Jessica’s partner Brandon Havatone and her son James will bring Jessica to her final resting place in Reno, NV, Our Lady of Sorrows Cemetery. A tentative memorial at Indian Canyon, CA is being organized by Cassandra Freeman, please contact her for more details.
After memorial fees, all funds will be saved for distribution to a 529 plan for James OR amalgamated with other fundraising efforts as overseen by James’ legal guardian. Funds will not be distributed from this account prior to discussion between Cassandra Freeman (friend and sister of Jess), Dr. Chelsey G. Armstrong (friend and Society of Ethnobiology colleague), Anna Lee (former GSC CGU member), and Carrie Cannon (friend and Hualapai Tribe colleague). If anyone else feels they should have a say in this process, please step forward and contact us immediately. Thank you for honoring Jessica’s memory and for your support for James.
Jessica’s was not a life lost but a life stolen.
Vale Jessica Mae Orozco.