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Conservation and Native Peoples
Recognizing that successful restoration and conservation in the Colorado River Delta must respect the relationship between nature and culture, the Institute works with the indigenous Kwapa people (the Cocopah in the U.S. and the Cucapá in Mexico) to promote their cultural recognition and access to natural resources. These tribes lived in the Delta for hundreds of years before the arrival of the Spanish in 1540, and their culture and survival have been intertwined with the river and its delta.
Purchase a “Land of the Kwapa” Map Today
In 2007, the Institute embarked on an ethno-cartographic process with the three Kwapa communities of Somerton, Arizona, El Mayor, Baja California, and Pozas de Arvizu, Sonora, to produce cultural maps of the region seen through the tribe’s eyes. The goal of these maps is to promote conservation and understanding of and respect for the indigenous landscape – both real and imaginary – and to build the capacity of the Kwapa to protect and promote their natural and cultural heritage. The draft English and Spanish maps also record site names in the Kwapa language.
For more information on the Institute’s cultural mapping process with the Kwapa, please read below.
Arts and Crafts
The Kwapa traditionally wore willow bark skirts, body and face paint, and bead jewelry, known as “chaquira.” Intricate chaquira necklaces, bracelets, earrings and large pectorals, used mainly for ceremonies, were originally made of earth and sea shells and now are made of colorful plastic. Working with Kwapa elders, anthropologist Anita Williams helped to revive the tradition in the early 1970s, and now all three Kwapa communities sell chaquira pieces at fairs and festivals on both sides of the border. Traditional colors were black, white and red, but now artisans use a wide variety of colors. The Institute has been working with craftswomen in El Mayor, Baja California, to integrate local materials such as willow, arrow weed and salt cedar into their jewelry.
The community mapping process included cartography experts from INEGI (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía) and anthropologists from the University of Baja California and the university museum’s Cultural Investigations Center. The mapping team reviewed the history of the Kwapa tribe since the 16th century and the history of mapping of the region and identified key natural and cultural features of the Kwapa landscape. Workshops were followed by field visits to sites near the community of El Mayor, including the traditional Kwapa cemetery, ancient mortars in the rock, the rock window where adolescent boys were initiated in the use of bows and arrows, mountains important in Kwapa mythology, ancient trails over the Sierra Cucapá, and a biznaga cactus garden where the Kwapa collected buds to use in traditional recipes. Site coordinates were recorded using a GPS unit for precise placement on the map. The mapping team also surveyed the region from the air, making it possible to appreciate how the identified features fit together in the Kwapa landscape.
"The Kwapa people are the river. Our whole life was based on the river. By that I mean our food, shelter and beliefs, from the time the Spanish came here. When you take the river, the trees and the woods away, I have no identity. I have nowhere to go. If the river stops flowing, we will no longer exist."
Colin Soto, tribal elder, Somerton, Arizona