Collin Soto wears his black hair long in a ponytail that trails down his back. And, like most of the things about Collin Soto, this means something. “I cut my hair when I lose somebody close to me,” he says, “I follow the ways that my people formed over 1,000 years ago.” Collin, a representative of the native Cocopah people of the Southwest, spent a hot October morning in Sonora Mexico talking to us about the challenges faced by a native culture entirely dependent on the water of the Colorado River Delta. This water has, in the past 50 years, dried up after a surge of dam building hit the Colorado River, thereby displacing their entire culture. “We lived off the river,” he said, “totally off the river. You call it environmental studies, we call it a way of life.” When Collin speaks, he looks at each of us, individually, as if to make sure that we are all listening. “We need this to change,” he goes on, “We need to worry about everybody not just ourselves,” he says. With the help of organizations like the Sonoran Institute, the Cocopah people are working to bring water back to the delta—hope back to the shores of a riverbed that has all but dried up.
By Cathryn Klusmeier