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This post is part of a series on the Colorado River Delta. So intimate was her connection to the river that as a girl she conditioned her hair with the soft mud from its channel bottom. Her family fished in the waters and hunted in the dense forests of cottonwoods and willows that spread across the…
The sadness of their story is written in the deeply lined, yet fiercely proud faces of the tribal elders.
For at least a thousand years, a native Indian clan called the Cucapá – the “people of the river” – fished and farmed in the delta of the Colorado River of northwestern Mexico. Their lives were keyed to the river’s natural rhythms. Each spring, after melting snows from the Rocky Mountains sent floodwaters down through the delta, the Cucapá planted beans, melons, and squash in soils newly fertilized by the river’s nutrient-rich sediment. They harvested a grain called nipa, a salt-loving plant that tastes much like wild rice. And they fished for corvina, a type of sea bass, and often ate fish three times a day.
Historical accounts suggest that four hundred years ago as many as 5,000 Cucapá were living in the delta. Today, perhaps 300 remain. Theirs is a culture at risk of extinction – and the primary reason is the colossal 20th-century grab of the waters of the Colorado River.