Putting the "People of the River" on the Map
Along the Colorado River, from Yuma to Mexico, live native people that rely on the river for their livelihood. Called Cucupá in Mexico, and Cocopah in the United States, they are generally known as Kwapa, or "people of the river." Before the 1930s, when dams were first built on the Colorado, it was a waterway brimming with life, and the Kwapa also flourished thanks to the river's many resources. The decline of the Colorado's health has meant that the estimated 1,500 Kwapa remaining have been challenged to find a new identity in a changing world.
Since 2005, the Sonoran Institute has been involved in a project to that will help put the Kwapa people on the map, literally. "The area where the Kwapa live is now quite devastated and desolate," explained Joaquin Murrieta, director of the Sonoran Institute's Northwest Mexico program. "But the Kwapa have seen the river full of life, and that vivid image is still alive in their minds. They continue to 'see' these sites as beautiful, sacred landscapes, even though it doesn't appear this way at first glance."
With the river's flow into the Delta reduced to a trickle, the Kwapa now fish for corvina, a saltwater fish in the Delta. However, this pits them against other efforts to protect the corvina. "Environmental laws are clashing with traditional indigenous rights," said Mark Lellouch, one of the map's authors. "Given that the Kwapa's catch is small, a solution that respects both should not be impossible to find." This map has already given the Kwapa a new sense of pride and place.