Deep in the delta of the Colorado River, the Cocopa people have fished and farmed for perhaps 2,000 years. They once harvested a grain they called nipa, a unique salt-loving plant known to botanists as Distichlis palmeri that tastes much like wild rice. Protein was also abundant: they sometimes ate fish three times a day, and they hunted deer, wild boar, ducks, and geese. Known as “people of the river,” the Cocopa had no formal calendar but keyed their lives to the Colorado’s seasonal floods. While no census documented their numbers, historical accounts suggest that about 5,000 Cocopa were living in the delta 400 years ago. Today the Cocopa culture is at risk of extinction. Their water has been siphoned away from the Colorado to fill swimming pools in Los Angeles, generate electricity to illuminate Las Vegas, and irrigate crops in the deserts of Arizona, California, and Mexico’s Mexicali Valley. Fishing and farming can no longer sustain them. They last harvested nipa in the early 1950s; by then, U.S. dams upstream had largely eliminated the annual floods that had naturally irrigated their staple grain. Now just 40 to 50 Cocopa families remain south of the border. With little means of… Read full this story
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