“Whenever we exist on any land, we know it is our country”: Cocopa Mobility and the Colorado River in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, 1887–1936
Grant, Daniel A.
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This article argues that between the 1890s and the 1920s, Cocopa Indians successfully parried the threats of expanding settler nation-states and modern capitalism by adapting ancestral mobility patterns to modern constraints of the U.S.-Mexico border. By moving with the changing flow of the Colorado River and, later, providing a cheap and indispensable migratory labor supply for both U.S. and Mexican farmers and ranchers, Cocopas were surprisingly successful at retaining autonomy within their ancestral homeland, even as both governments sought to enforce the international border and to colonize Cocopa lands. But a series of impediments eventually placed new and lasting limits on Cocopas’ abilities to move freely through their homeland of the Colorado River delta. A detailed account of how and why Cocopas moved, how and why state agents tried to limit their movements, and how and why both of these factors changed over time helps us understand why some Native peoples retained vestiges of autonomy within their ancestral homelands during an era commonly associated with genocide, displacement, or assimilation on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. This story shows us that Native movement was not only a geopolitical act but depended upon the specific landscapes in which it occurred. Long after the ink had dried on the map, this portion of the U.S.-Mexico border was rendered unstable by a river that knew no bounds and a people who knew how to move with it.
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Grant, D. A. (2022). “Whenever we exist on any land, we know it is our country”: Cocopa Mobility and the Colorado River in the US-Mexico Borderlands, 1887–1936. Western Historical Quarterly.