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SPECIAL REPORT: Treasures of the Desert Southwest – Cocopah Indian Tribe Museum

SOMERTON, Ariz. (KYMA, KECY) - The Cocopah Museum, another Treasure of the Desert Southwest.

For centuries, the Cocopah people have maintained their traditional and cultural beliefs through their compelling landscape, described by many as giving and non-materialistic.

The Cocopah, or those of the river, lived on the lower Colorado River and Delta region for thousands of years.

Every resource they needed to survive came from the river, whether it was hunting for food or creating pieces of clothing from the plants in our area.

Now in the present day, the Cocopah are establishing a better foundation for their future generations.

Museum Director and Cultural Programs Coordinator Joe Rodriquez III say they’ve outgrown the place since day one.

“We want to make sure it stays alive," said Rodriquez. "We’re looking at much more involvement in our tribe. As far as the culture and its presentation and its position here in this area, we are making sure that we don’t fizzle out.”

The Cocopah Museum has been up and running since 1995.

In order to properly display the artifacts the museum has collected over the years, an expansion is only necessary. 

“With the expansion, we’re looking at a rotation of different aspects of our tribe. Maybe through music, sports, agriculture, housing, so those will be a rotation with a lot of items that we already have set to go," Rodriquez said.

Authentic artifacts displayed catch the eye as soon as you enter the museum.

From beadwork to pottery and historic photos of tribe members, even life-sized figures of what tribe members looked like and wore back then.

Rodriquez said it’s hard to pick a favorite historic item because of his role.

As museum director, he dives deep into his Cocopah culture to find the best ways to present the tribe to anyone who visits.

“I’m trying to get the importance of it, I’m trying to get the details of its history," said Rodriquez. "As much as I have knowledge of and what I gain from other people, from our elders. All of those go into the presentation and those are the things that go into our presentation and those are the things that I want to make sure other people grasp it.”

Designs in the desert, remnants of the Cocopah, and other tribes remain across the vicinity including San Diego, and as far east towards Phoenix.

Habitats and petroglyphs prevail and there is no way for the Cocopah to fully protect what their people left during their travels.

These items could be hundreds if not thousands of years old.

Priceless history that all tribes encourage visitors hiking and driving in the desert to protect these petroglyphs, pictographs, and intaglios.

“They may come across one and if they do that they will honor and respect it as we want to make sure that those things stay there forever," said Rodriquez. "So, that they can show their grandkids one day and say ‘Ah when I was a kid I saw this and it’s still here’. I don’t want to call it living history but it’s history that’s left in our ground, left in our hills, left in the rocks.”

Keeping in touch with the community is important to the Cocopah as it aids in helping them honor their history.

From participating in the Yuma Silver Spur Rodeo Parade to hosting artwork classes and although there aren’t any classes available at the moment, Rodriquez says they are open to hosting classes with proper planning.

“That can be done very easily in today’s future, but this is something that we want to remain. And as far as the way to do that is not only having a museum but having our next generation know it as much as I do," said Rodriquez. "And that they continue to strive to retain that so that they pass it on to the generation after them.”

When I asked Rodriquez what the exhibit and preservation of artifacts mean to him, he said it’s important because as he gets older he understands the importance of connecting with his roots.

As far as what the museum means for their culture, he said:

“We like to share our culture so that you’re not living in Yuma county your whole life and not know exactly what land you’re standing on. You’re on Cocopah land, no matter where you are around here," said Rodriquez.

You can expect the museum expansion and renovations to be completed by Mid-summer and will remain open so you can come to see authentic Cocopah arts and crafts.

Article Topic Follows: Special Reports

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Jacqueline Aguilar


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